Insurer punished for failing to pay claim


POSTED: Thursday, January 15, 2009

LIHUE » A Kauai judge has ordered an insurance company to pay $325,000 to an 80-year-old woman who was forced to rely on handouts from neighbors when the company failed to honor a claim.

The sum includes $250,000 in punitive damages awarded Tuesday by Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano.

Attorney Daniel Chur, representing Esmeralda Ordonez, an 80-year-old Venezuelan woman, said Hawaii Employers' Mutual Insurance Co. failed to promptly pay a worker's compensation claim Ordonez made after her daughter died.

Ordonez' daughter, Mayra Rodriguez, 49, a tour guide with Gay & Robinson Tours, was killed in January 2005 while clearing all-terrain vehicle trails.

Under state law, Ordonez was entitled to at least $48,000 in death benefits from HEMIC, Chur said. She filed the proper paperwork, despite not speaking English well and living in Venezuela.

HEMIC, even after prodding from the tour company and its insurance agent, never followed up, Chur said.

“;They decided to lay low and hope the claim would go away,”; he added.

The insurer also forced the case to a hearing before the state Department of Labor, arguing the death was not covered under state law. A four-day, nonjury trial was held in September.

HEMIC Chief Executive Officer Robert Dove said the company is “;very disappointed in the decision”; and will “;decide on our course of action”; when the final written judgment is received.