Whose Secret Is It Anyway?

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NEW ORLEANS: Amid concerns that insurance companies may sometimes play fast and loose with sensitive medical information, a Mississippi woman has sued one firm for being too tight-lipped. Attorneys for the company, Jackson National Insurance, argued in a federal appeals court Monday that it was not legally obligated to tell her husband that blood tests had revealed he was infected with the AIDS virus. In 1988, Jackson National denied attorney Frank Deramus's application to increase his life insurance because of the HIV-positive results, but refused his requests to tell him why. The insurance company did not release the information until June 1991, nine days before 51-year-old Deramus died from AIDS-related complications. Jody Deramus, who so far has tested negative for HIV, claims in her suit that Jackson National endangered her life in exposing her to the disease by not telling her husband he was infected. A judge in federal district judge disagreed, saying that, under Mississippi law, the insurance company did not have the duty to tell Deramus he was infected. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now hearing the case. Twenty-one states have laws which require insurance companies to disclose their reason for rejecting applicants, but Mississippi is not among them. The insurer argues that it is not responsible for informing its clients of such life-threatening information. Said an attorney for the firm: "Allowing a stock broker to jump out of an open window when one could have stopped him might be morally reprehensible, but it does not pose a legal obligation to do so." Terence Nelan