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Teen's family plans to sue health insurer

December 21, 2007 12:00:00 AM PST
The family of a 17-year-old leukemia patient who died awaiting a liver transplant plans to sue the teen's health insurer.CIGNA HealthCare initially refused to cover the cost of the transplant for Nataline Sarkisyan, saying the surgery was too experimental.

Nataline's family mounted a vigorous battle to get a liver transplant for her.

In desperation, they went to the law offices of prominent criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos. Threatening legal action, Geragos got the company to reverse its decision, but it was too late.

In a news conference Friday Geragos announced he is filing a civil lawsuit and called for criminal charges against CIGNA for manslaughter.

A court battle is now pending after a battle for life is ended.

"My reading of the statute is clear that this corporation had the mental state that they consciously disregarded her life," said Mark Geragos, family attorney. "And they did that for one specific reason, because they did not want to have to pay for her aftercare."

On Thursday night the family of the 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan announced her death. She was taken off life support when her condition worsened.

"My daughter is, she's at God's hands right now," said Koko Sarkisyan, Nataline's father.

"She's in God's hands, pray for her please," said Bedig Sarkisyan, Nataline's brother. "God is crying for her right now."

Doctors had sedated Nataline into a coma to slow down the ravages of liver disease. They had hopes at Thanksgiving that she would survive because of a bone marrow transplant from her brother. But her lungs developed a fungus.

Nataline's family said a liver transplant was available on Dec. 11, but that CIGNA denied coverage and the opportunity was lost.

CIGNA claims the surgery at that point was too experimental and would have questionable results.

On Thursday the family, with the support of the California Nurses Association and the Armenian Youth Federation, led a demonstration at the Glendale headquarters of CIGNA, calling on the public to pressure the company. Nataline's doctors at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA Medical Center twice appealed to CIGNA to approve the surgery, but to no avail.

The lobbying and the treat of a lawsuit by a high profile lawyer got the company to relent. The reversal happened just six hours before Nataline died.

CIGNA released the following statement Friday:

Our deepest sympathies are with Nataline's family. Their loss is immeasurable, and our thoughts and prayers are with them. We deeply hope that the outpouring of concern, care and love that are being expressed for Nataline's family help them at this time.

The company says it is going to press for its campaign for compassionate care.

In the meantime, there is no word on when the lawsuit will be filed. Lawyers say they still have a lot of fact gathering to do.

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