PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The parents of a teen-age girl who died after CIGNA denied coverage for a liver transplant claim CIGNA employees taunted them with “lewd and obscene” gestures during a rally for health-care reform. The parents say CIGNA did not approve their daughter’s treatment until company bosses saw a previous protest, on behalf of their daughter, on national TV. But it was too late – their daughter died that day.
Hilda and Grigor Sarkisyan say they were “verbally heckled and abused” by CIGNA employees at the insurance company’s Philadelphia headquarters during the Oct. 29, 2008 protest at CIGNA’s Philadelphia headquarters. They say “the conduct was so outrageous in character as to cause shock and outrage to a reasonable member of the public.”
“Taken alone, such heckling and gestures may be set aside as mere insults. However … defendants who made such lewd hand gestures at plaintiffs knew them to be grieving parents,” the complaint states.
The Sarkisyan’s daughter, Nataline, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 14. In 2007, after a bone-marrow transplant caused liver failure, doctors told her parents that Nataline needed a liver transplant to survive.
“During this time, CIGNA repeatedly stonewalled plaintiffs and Nataline’s physicians’ requests that CIGNA approve the cost of this life-saving procedure,” the complaint states.
“CIGNA denied cost coverage for the potential life-saving liver transplant throughout the month of December until the late morning of Dec. 20, 2007, when plaintiffs arrived at CIGNA Healthcare of California’s headquarters in Glendale, California to protest this denial,” the complaint states. “While watching the live broadcast of the California protest, CIGNA’s executives in Pennsylvania made the decision to approve the cost of Nataline Sarkisyan’s liver transplant. CIGNA executives then contacted CIGNA Healthcare of California employees in Glendale, California and instructed them to stop the protest by informing plaintiffs Hilda and Grigor Sarkisyan that Nataline’s transplant was now approved by CIGNA. Unfortunately, Nataline died several hours later that same day.” She was 17.
“Plaintiffs and health-care advocates believed that the death of Nataline Sarkisyan was directly caused by CIGNA’s refusal to cover the life-saving liver transplant,” the parents say. After their daughter died, the Sarkisyans say they “became active and vocal spokespersons for health-care and insurance reform.”
The parents joined Democratic presidential candidates on the 2008 campaign trail to talk about their experience, and that year visited CIGNA headquarters in Philadelphia to protest insurance companies’ practice of denying coverage to sick policyholders.
“During the [Oct. 29] protest, while plaintiffs were speaking about the tragic death of their daughter, CIGNA employees standing on a CIGNA office balcony directly above plaintiffs began to heckle plaintiffs and made lewd hand gestures at them,” the complaint states.
The parents say the incident left them with “headaches, nausea, physical distress, sleeplessness and flashbacks.”
They seek punitive damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by George Yacoubian Jr. of King of Prussia, Pa.