A jury awarded $40 million in compensatory damages and $160 million in punitive damages to the family of a Las Vegas man who died after being wrongfully denied a specific type of cancer treatment. Sierra Health and Life, a UnitedHealthCare Company, denied Bill Eskew’s claim for proton beam therapy (PBT). Sandy Eskew, the widow and on behalf of Bill Eskew’ estate, brought a lawsuit against Sierra Health and Life. After a 13-day trial, the jury found Sierra Health and Life had breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing also known as “insurance bad faith.”
Following a 2015 diagnosis with lung cancer, Bill Eskew went to the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. A physician at MD Anderson recommended PBT because she believed PBT would reduce the risk of serious side effects of radiation. In a letter denying the treatment, Sierra Health and Life stated, “This type of therapy is considered unproven and not medically necessary for treating lung cancer.” PBT is a widely accepted cancer treatment
The treatment Sierra Health and Life approved, called Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), caused a serious injury to Mr. Eskew’s esophagitis, a side effect his physician wanted to avoid by using PBT. During the remaining year of his life, Bill Eskew suffered unnecessarily from significant pain and emotional distress. Bill Eskew died in March 2017.
“This was a case about an insurance company who operated as though it was above the law. Sierra denied Bill’s claim without fairly considering the insurance policy it sold him and without a good faith investigation,” said Matthew L. Sharp of Reno, Nev., one of the Eskew family’s attorneys. “We believe the jury, through its verdict, found that Sierra’s rigged system of handling claims is wrong and needs to be changed,” said Eskew family attorney Douglas A. Terry of Doug Terry Law in Edmond, Okla.
The case is Sandra L. Eskew, as Special Administrator of the Estate of William George Eskew vs. Sierra Health and Life Insurance Company, Inc., a subsidiary of UnitedHealthCare, No. A-19–788630-C, in the Eighth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada in and for the County of Clark.