ERISA to Insurance Companies: It’s OK to kill someone’s daughter, just don’t flip them off

Cigna Corporation, an ERISA health insurer, killed Nataline Sarkisyan in December 2007, denying a liver transplant on the pretext it was “experimental” (which is insurance company code for “expensive”; after all paying for the transplant would reduce its profits).

Nataline’s parents sued Cigna for killing their daughter. Nataline’s mom, Hilda, also appeared at Cigna’s Phildelphia headquarters in 2008, and said “You guys killed my daughter. I want an apology.”

What she got instead is described in an article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Cigna employees, looking down into the atrium lobby from a balcony above, began heckling her, she said, with one of them giving her “the finger.” Sarkisyan walked out, stunned and hurt.

“They showed me their true colors,” she said. “Shame on them.”

Meanwhile, thanks to ERISA, a Los Angeles judge had to dismiss their wrongful death case against Cigna, because ERISA provides the Cignas of the world immunity from liability for killing people.

Cigna, of course, took this as some sort of endorsement of its decision to let Nataline die:

Cigna said the dismissal of the wrongful-death case in April showed that the court “agreed with our position that the Sarkisyans’ claims regarding Cigna’s decision making were without merit.”

But as the Times correctly observed

In fact, the court did not consider the merits of the family’s wrongful-death claims. Instead, it decided those claims could not be heard.

The insurance companies’ flack, one Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, defended the outcome, saying that to hold insurance companies accountable for killing people will “bankrupt these plans, and employers would no longer be able to offer coverage.”

That makes perfect sense. How can you be expected to offer your services at a reasonable price if the courts are going to nitpick about you killing people?

The Sarkisyans did get one bit of good news, though. They get to sue Cigna over its employees flipping off Ms. Sarkisyan: the court “said the Sarkisyans could pursue damages for any emotional distress caused by the Philadelphia incident.”

So they have that going for them.

Memo to insurance companies in ERISAworld: go ahead and kill people. Just keep your middle finger to yourself.

UPDATE: Film at 11: