April 9 A Nevada jury awarded $500 million in
punitive damages in a closely watched case against two
affiliates of UnitedHealth Group stemming from a
hepatitis C outbreak in the state, according to a spokeswoman
for a law firm in the case.
The case involves two patients who claimed they became
infected with hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver,
because their gastroenterologist used allegedly unsafe injection
practices for an endoscopy.
The plaintiffs argued that UnitedHealth should be held
responsible because the accused gastroenterologist was part of
the company's network and that the insurer should have known
about allegedly unsafe practices.
The case could set a far-reaching precedent requiring health
insurance companies to police practices of member hospitals and
doctors, according to experts.
Last week, the same jury in Clark County District Court in
Las Vegas awarded $24 million in compensatory damages in favor
of the patients and one of their spouses. In the jury's punitive
award on Tuesday, it assessed $270 million to Health Plan of
Nevada and $230 million to Sierra Health Services, according to
Sharon Christal, a spokeswoman for the law firm representing the
The plaintiffs had sought over $1 billion in punitive
Health Plan of Nevada said the damages were unreasonable and
evidence and testimony kept from the jury would help in an
"The number announced today has no grounding in reality --
it represents fantasy damages, not punitive damages," the
company said in a statement.
The cases are Helen Meyer v. Health Plan of Nevada Inc,
Eighth Judicial District Court (Clark County), No. 09A583799;
and Bonnie Brunson v. Health Plan of Nevada Inc, Eighth Judicial
District Court (Clark County), No. A-10-608344-C.