040biter

Die, Dammit, Die!

Plucky Patient Perseveres, Turning the Actuarial Tables on Impatient Investors

Posted Apr 22, 2006 5:40 AM CDT
By Brian Sullivan

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There was a time when the woman known as M. Smith would not have bothered to buy a calendar--unless she could buy it a month at a time.

Ms. Smith, a Philadelphia-area resident who wishes to remain anonymous, faced a double death sentence in the early 1990s when she was diagnosed with both cancer and AIDS.

Under the reasonable assumption that she wasn’t long for this world, Smith--then in her 30s--sold her $150,000 life insurance policy for some quick cash to make her remaining days as comfortable as possible.

Life Partners Inc., the Texas company that bought her policy for $90,000, figured to lay out a modest sum for Smith’s life insurance and health insurance premiums and then cash in big when the Grim Reaper came knocking.

But Smith, now 50, is in no rush to take a dirt nap. Advances in the medical treatment she requires have allowed her to lead a near-normal life. At this point, Life Partners has spent more keeping her alive than it ever hoped to earn from her demise.

The company reportedly would periodically declare its intention to cease payments on Smith’s insurance policies, and Smith spoke of phone calls from people claiming to represent angry Life Partners investors, asking how she was feeling.

Smith finally filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. Under the glare of the judge, Life Partners attorney R. Scott Peden reportedly produced an affidavit signed by the firm’s president, vowing to honor the contract.

Peden of Waco, Texas, cited a gag order when asked for comment.

Er, ... Thanks?

Winner’s Wish for Way-Cool Wheels Is Taken Too Far with Tricked-Out Truck

In July 2004, Colleen Kuczinski figured she was due for a vehicle upgrade. Her 1986 Chevy S-10 pickup truck--with its dents, blown suspension system, five shades of paint and mismatched tires--was starting to show its age.

So when WKST FM of Pittsburgh began promoting a contest--called “Freak My Ride”--in which five cosmetically challenged vehicles would be made over and highly accessorized, Kuczinski entered and her vehicle was chosen.

The five beaters-turned-beauties were then entered in a show and Kuczinski’s truck won. She claims that the work done on it left it unfit for everyday use because it was no longer “street legal.”

In January, after unsuccessful attempts to get necessary repairs and alterations paid for, Kuczinski sued the radio station and Clear Channel Communications, which owns the station, alleging breach of contract.

Per the complaint, the truck came back with “changes to the electrical system, improperly mounted shocks, disconnection of the emergency brake, and the addition of an improperly installed ... suspension system,” rendering it inoperable. Kuczinski is seeking damages in excess of $25,000.

Her lawyer, Joseph Luvara of Pittsburgh, says the work done to the vehicle was to be strictly cosmetic. “They should have never released the vehicle in the state it was in,” he says. “She cannot drive it on the street in its current condition.”

A spokesman for Clear Channel offered no comment.

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