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Victim Wins $1M

A Bowie woman who suffers from the soft-tissue condition fibromyalgia won a $1 million federal jury verdict against an insurance company which had refused to recognize her illness as a disabling condition.Jeanine Carson was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in April 1997 and filed for benefits under a disability policy that her then-employer had with insurer Canada Life Assurance Co.An accounting technician, Carson was out of work for nearly three years and had to declare bankruptcy because of the illness. Canada Life, however, still refused to recognize the disease as a disabling condition, Carson’s attorney, Patrick M. Donahue, said yesterday.“They showed nothing but contempt for the disease. They didn’t even have a rheumatologist testify at trial,” Donahue said.The eight-member jury, sitting in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, on Tuesday awarded Carson $300,000 to compensate for her losses and $750,000 in punitive damages because the insurance company did not deal in good faith, Donahue said.Attorney Michael S. DeBaugh, who represented Canada Life, did not return a reporter’s call by press time.“It was a kind of a gradual thing, there was no injury,” Carson, 41, said in describing how her condition started. “My older sister has it.”Doctors say that fibromyalgia can result from injury or it may result from infections. Also, fibromyalgia may be an inherited illness.Carson described her conditions as “constant flu-like,” with aching muscles and joints, and said the disease prevented her from getting restful sleep.Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic rheumatic condition marked by pain in the muscles and connective tissues, according to the Fibromyalgia Association of Greater Washington. Some patients describe pain as severe, especially in the neck, back and shoulders.It is often accompanied by fatigue that varies from mild to severe exhaustion, and about 90 percent of the estimated 5 million Americans who claim to suffer from fibromyalgia are women.A diagnostic test for fibromyalgia does not exist, according to doctors, and attorneys who handle such cases say that the best medical expert is usually the treating physician.Donahue said he stumbled upon this important trial tactic and called to testify one medical expert, rheumatologist Donald E. Thomas, who treated Carson’s condition for more than two years.“I had never heard of fibromyalgia until the client walked through my door,” Donahue said.More from The Daily Record Online

Junk Science or Legitimate Injury? Either Way, Fibromyalgia’s a Pain (Sept. 2, 2000)