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UnitedHealth Group Pays More Than $500 Million For Allegedly Turning Blind Eye

Apr 10, 2013 02:00 PM EDT
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After hours of deliberation on Tuesday, a Nevada jury handed down their decision that two UnitedHealth Group units pay $500 million in punitive damages for failing to oversee a doctor whose unsanitary medical practices are believed to have given patients hepatitis C.

At the time of the hepatitis C scare in 2007, Nevada health officials were forced to inform 50,000 patients that they had potentially contracted the disease because gastroenterologist Dipak Desai reused anesthetic vials and failed to sterilize equipment used in performing colonoscopies.

The award is the largest U.S. verdict yet and comes less than a week after the same jury ordered the health insurance company pay a total of $24 million to Bonnie Brunson and Helen Meyer, two of Desai's former patients who contracted the disease.

According to Bloomberg Business News, the total $524 million award is the largest in the United States for the year of 2013 thus far.

Tyler Mason is a UnitedHealth spokesman, however, who believes the numbers are essentially made up.

"The number announced today has no grounding whatsoever in reality," he told the news agency. "It represents fantasy damages, not punitive damages."

One of the two units faced with the massive charge, Health Plan of Nevada, stated on a website created for the trial that Brunson's and Meyer's actions are "driven only by attorney greed."

Initially, the women's lawyers asked jurors to award their clients a total of $2.5 billion in punitive damages. Had they been victorious, UnitedHealth Group lawyer Lee Roberts assured the public that "the amount wold destroy us."

The current verdict, though, should still serve to encourage insurers to take a greater responsibility in the quality of the services offered their insured, said Robert Eglet, Brunson's lawyer.

Ultimately, the decision to forego necessary safety steps between visitors by Desai was portrayed by witnesses in trial as one born in hopes of seeing as many patients in the shortest amount of time possible - even as many as 20 in a three-hour period.

Currently, Desai, 62, and two nurse anesthetists face second-degree murder charges over the death of one colonoscopy patient. This trial is set to begin on April 22 on charges filed by state prosecutors.

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