Survivor sues over insurance

By Lorna Thackery of the Billings Gazette Staff

A woman whose husband died of lung cancer in 1989 is asking a U.S. District Court jury in Billings to award her damages from the insurance company that denied claims under the supplemental cancer policy she and her husband paid premiums on for 17 years.

Attorneys for Margaret Coddington, whose husband, Dean, died after a six-month illness, contend that Wabash Life Insurance Co. engaged in fraud in denying claims for three hospitalizations.

Billings Attorney Cliff Edwards said in his opening statement Monday that the insurance company provided policy buyers with frightening information on cancer statistics and warning about how much treatment costs. The company even warned about how cancer bankrupts as well as kills, he said. But when the disease struck the Coddingtons, the company denied the claims, Edwards said.

Ward Swanser, attorney for the insurance company, argued that the company paid the claims that fell under the policy coverage. The policy said the company would pay its share of costs for the "definitive" treatment of cancer. Wabash did that, he said.

The key to the case apparently will be what "definitive" means.

The claims denied involved three hospitalizations for Dean Coddington in the final months of his life. He was admitted to the hospital on those occasions for low blood pressure and pneumonia. Edwards contends that those conditions were the direct result of the lung cancer and that the policy should have paid its share of the costs.

But the insurance company argues that the policy only covers cancer treatment, not other illnesses, even if they are related to the cancer.

The Coddingtons bought the policy in the 1970s when they lived in Baker. They initially purchase it from another company, but Wabash ended up with the policy through the years of companies buying and selling each other, Edwards said.

Edwards said about $18,000 in claims were denied. He will also be seeking other damages, but did not give any amounts in his opening statement to the jury on Monday.

Trial is expected to last until Wednesday.