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Crusading lawyers lead charge against UnumProvident

MICHAEL LIEDTKE
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - Disability insurer UnumProvident Corp. has tangled with plenty of pesky lawyers in the last five years. Few, if any, have been as tenacious - or effective - as Ray Bourhis and his partner.

In the past two years, the two San Francisco lawyers have won a pair of seven-figure judgments against UnumProvident, and recently convinced a federal judge that the company's business practices broke California laws.

The attorneys' other victories are more difficult to quantify because they have occurred in confidential settlements paid to UnumProvident policyholders who alleged the company wrongfully withheld disability payments after they suffered debilitating injuries or sicknesses.

"It's getting to the point that when we call them up with a case, they want to settle right away," Wolfson said.

UnumProvident spokesman Tom White declined to comment about Ray Bourhis. The company believes policyholder attorneys, in general, have unfairly demonized UnumProvident.

Bourhis said he is doing everything he can to expose UnumProvident's business practices, which he characterizes as the worst abuses he has seen during three decades of specializing in insurance law.

The alleged misconduct provided fodder for a book Bourhis has written about UnumProvident. He is still looking for a publisher for the book, which he plans to call "Infectious Greed."

The ferocity of Bourhis' crusade flows from his long-running desire to be an industry watchdog. Bourhis couldn't persuade California voters to elect him to the role, losing badly in a 1990 bid to become the state's insurance commissioner.

Undeterred, Bourhis convinced San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Dearman in 1991 to appoint him "special master" for California's Department of Insurance. In this unpaid job, Bourhis oversees how regulators handle consumer complaints.

Despite a 1998 attempt by the California Department of Insurance to dump him, Bourhis has kept the job, much to the dismay of insurers.

"I commend him for his energy and enthusiasm, but he has never taken a very balanced approach to insurance issues," said Dan Dunmoyer, president of the Personal Insurance Federation, a trade group.

Bourhis is unapologetic. "I'm an insurance nerd," he said, "and I have always hated what insurance companies do to people."