HOUSTON -- Attorneys for the Houston Astros filed a lawsuit in state district court here Monday afternoon against Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., claiming breach of contract because the insurer denied the Astros' claim to recoup $15.6 million of injured first baseman Jeff Bagwell's $17 million contract.
"Our position is they need to do the right thing and honor their obligation," said attorney Wayne Fisher of the Houston law firm Fisher, Boyd, Brown, Boudreaux and Huguenard. "In our opinion this is a clear-cut case of breach of contract and we intend to seek redress in the courts."
Fisher said the Astros are seeking $85,748 per game based on Bagwell's "total disability" for the entire 162-game regular season.
The Astros filed the insurance claim late in January, a few days prior to the Jan. 31 deadline. On March 28, Connecticut General rejected the claim, contending Bagwell had not become more disabled since he played in the World Series in October 2005.
Fisher argued that the findings of Dr. James Andrews during Bagwell's visit to the orthopedic surgeon's office in Birmingham, Ala., in mid-January contradicted Connecticut General's position.
After Dr. Andrews put Bagwell through a series of tests, Andrews, according to Fisher, came up with a "laundry list" of physical ailments that deemed Bagwell completely disabled in terms of ever playing baseball again.
"Mr. Bagwell had his press conference and announced to the public, and certainly to Connecticut General, 'I've tried it, I thought I could do it, I can't do it, I'm disabled' -- something to that effect," Fisher said. "We've again asked Connecticut General to honor its contract with the Houston Astros. We wrote them again and said, 'We ask you to rethink your position.'"
The Astros paid $2.4 million in premiums to insure Bagwell's contract. Now the matter moves to court.
"We said, 'We're calling on you to pay the benefits and you refuse to,'" Fisher said. "We want assistance in court."
As of late Monday afternoon, Connecticut General had not formally received notice that the lawsuit was filed by the Astros' lawyers.
"It would be premature to comment on the specifics of a lawsuit that we have not seen," said Ty Buthod of the Houston law firm Baker Botts, which represents Connecticut General. "But in general, Connecticut General is confident that it made the right determination when it denied total disability claim made by the Astros."
By definition, under the terms of the policy, Buthod said, total disability means "the insured's complete and total physical inability to participate. We know Jeff Bagwell was able to participate for the latter half of the 2005 season."
Baker Botts has 21 days to answer after it is served the lawsuit.
"Based on the Astros' lawyer's comments, this [news of a pending lawsuit] was not a surprise," Buthod said.