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Suit wins doctor $36.7-million

The eye surgeon had to close his practice because of Parkinson's disease. He later sued for disability payments.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


TAMPA -- A doctor diagnosed with Parkinson's disease won a $36.7-million judgment in federal court Thursday against the insurance company that he said denied him disability payments.

Dr. John Tedesco broke down and cried when the jury announced its decision against Paul Revere Life Insurance Co. The jury, which deliberated for two hours, had spent nine days listening to evidence about how the company treated Tedesco after he was diagnosed two years ago with Parkinson's disease and a herniated back.

"This shows that they treated him wrong. I don't think they are going to forget it," said Frank Winkles, Tedesco's trial lawyer.

Representatives from Paul Revere could not be reached.

Tedesco was a successful ophthalmologist in Erie, Pa., when he moved to Wesley Chapel in 1997 to be close to his son, who was attending the golf academy at Saddlebrook. Tedesco was laser certified and performed several types of eye surgery.

Tedesco opened a practice in Wesley Chapel but ruptured a disc in his back and strained his neck when he helped lift a golf cart, Winkles said.

The back injury was followed by other complications, including hand tremors that went undiagnosed at first. Doctors thought the symptoms were related to the back injury but eventually diagnosed Parkinson's disease, Winkles said.

In 1992, Tedesco bought a disability insurance policy for about $3,800 a year from Paul Revere that provided coverage if he could no longer work as an ophthalmologist. He closed his practice in early 1998, and Paul Revere paid out five months of coverage, then stopped, Winkles said.

Paul Revere argued that Tedesco was responsible for bringing about the end of his ophthalmology career when he decided to close his practice in Wesley Chapel, Winkles said. The company ignored the fact that a doctor who shakes with Parkinson's cannot perform eye surgery, he said.

Parkinson's is a neurological disease believed to be caused by deterioration of the brain cells. Parkinson's is characterized by tremors of the hands, muscle rigidity and a shuffling gait. It can be treated, but the symptoms often get worse as the patient ages.

Three months before the trial started, Paul Revere paid Tedesco $265,000 in back benefits. Winkles said he thinks the company was trying to put on the best face possible before heading to trial.

Tedesco, 42, has been working in a family medical practice since his diagnosis, but the Parkinson's will soon force him to quit, Winkles said.

"For a couple years they left Dr. Tedesco twisting about his coverage," Winkles said. "This judgment says loud and clear that they acted in bad faith."

Worcester, Mass.-based Paul Revere, which was bought out by UnumProvident, the nation's largest doctor disability insurer, has faced an increasing number of disability claims. Nationwide, nearly 10,000 doctors filed disability claims in 1998, about five times more than the number of doctors who filed claims a decade earlier.

-- Information from the Boston Globe was used in this report. Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365.

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