Today's San Diego Union Tribune reports on a $14 million dollar punitive damages award a couple of days ago from a jury to a Prudential insured who was wrongfully denied disability benefits. Last week the same jury awarded the woman, Darla Johnson, $1.5 million in compensatory damage. Prudential says it will ask the trial judge to set aside or reduce the award and, failing that, will appeal. Although the story doesn't specifically say, it is clear that Johnson was insured by Prudential under either an individual policy or a group policy through a governmental or church plan. These types of policies fall outside the scope of ERISA. The jury's decision would not have been possible under ERISA in light of decisions by the federal judiciary that neither jury trials nor punitive damages are available under the statute. The great majority of disability policies are governed by ERISA. So it becomes a little more understandable how insurers used to dealing with no accountability for consequential or punitive damages under ERISA would run into trouble if they don't modify their behavior when they deal with non-ERISA insureds. Thanks to Sue Horner for the heads up on this case.
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