By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"She asked if I had reproductive problems," Latham said. "We laughed because I had all these kids."
In a deposition taken in another lawsuit, a Time employee said that the application questions usually aren't asked verbatim but in "a little more customer-friendly" manner. A transcript of an application interview produced in that same case shows the question about "reproductive problems" being posed the same way that Latham says she was asked about it.
Tugging on a canary-yellow sweater and straining to focus on Levy's questions, Latham insisted she didn't knowingly mislead anyone. "I may be silly, I may be stupid, I may be naive, but I'm not a liar," she said from the witness stand. "I try to live my life in a certain way.... I was a teacher of little kids."
"What's life like without health insurance?" Levy asked.
"Life is hard. I cry a lot. A lot of specialists don't take Medicaid. If they do, they say they don't have any space available. It's the first thing they ask about: insurance."
Time's legal team was led by Robert Walker and Walter Wilson, two attorneys from a prominent Mississippi defense firm. Walker aspired to a certain Southern delicacy in his cross-examination of Latham, but the performance seemed lost on a Boulder jury. He asked if a doctor had examined her "female regions" during her 2004 clinic visit, and you could almost smell the magnolias bursting into bloom.
But Walker's cross had its missteps, too. He asked Latham to read aloud a passage from her deposition. As she began to stumble over the words, he hastily retrieved the document — but not before the incident brought home to the jury how the accident had made reading an arduous chore.
Walker seemed puzzled that she'd managed to maintain auto insurance — for a van with bald tires donated by a local charity — while having no health insurance. He established that her medical bills had eventually been paid out of funds extracted from insurance on the rented truck that hit her and her own auto coverage, as if that made up for any alleged breach of contract by his company.
But if Latham emerged unscathed in cross-examination, the same could not be said of Time's highest-ranking witness, Darinka Sever. An eighteen-year veteran of the company, the manager who oversees the rescission process, Sever was the embodiment of Time's corporate spirit: bland but unyielding, fond of razor-thin distinctions of language rarely found outside an underwriting manual, and utterly fixated on the bottom line.
Sever defended the rescission of Latham's policy to the bitter end. There was no need to call Latham or her insurance agent or even her doctor before revoking her insurance, she testified: "The records were pretty clear." Had Time known about the ER visit for shortness of breath, the policy would never have been issued, she said.
Levy asked her if the company had ever bothered to process Latham's appeal. The policyholder never appealed the decision, Sever insisted. Incredulous, Levy asked about the letters he'd received stating that the company was "conducting a review based on your appeal."
Form letters, Sever said. There was no appeal.
What about Jennifer Latham's phone call? Wasn't that a request for an appeal? What about the letter from Levy's office asking for more time?
"The letter from your office is a request for information, not an appeal," Sever said.
The company had done nothing wrong. Not when it started telling medical providers the policy was no longer in effect, a day after notifying Latham of its intent to rescind. Not when it sent Latham a form letter asking for details of the accident six months after rescinding the policy. Not even when it sent her the stupid, stupid, stupid letter, offering to keep her children insured if she would immediately consent to what was, in effect, financial ruin.
"We gave them the opportunity to at least keep the kids on the plan," Sever said. "It's not a process to trick anyone."
When not on the stand, Sever sat at the defense table, consulting with Time's attorneys. By the time the trial was over, jurors had come up with their own nickname for the unemotional, all-business, gray-haired manager.
They called her Cruella.
This is a big day for Jennifer Latham," Levy told the jurors at the start of his closing argument. "This is, in fact, her appeal. After four years, we finally got here."
He called Time's rescission panel a "star chamber" and wondered how any process so relentless — more than a hundred rescissions in two hours — could be described as a "fair and thorough" review. Since "the only regard Time has is for numbers," he had a few numbers of his own. By his calculations, the company had saved $116,000 per work day over five years by taking away customers' health insurance. He asked for $2 million in economic damages and $5 million in punitive damages against the company.
"We think health insurance should be about the people they promise to insure, the people they promise to take care of," he said. "You people are the last hope.... Please process our appeal."