Dec. 21, 2007 -- The family of a California teenager who died awaiting a liver transplant said they would sue the insurer whom they blame for their daughter's death.
Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old from Glendale, Calif., died Thursday just a few hours after her insurer, Cigna HealthCare, approved a procedure it had previously described as "too experimental."
Attorney Mark Geragos said that Cigna "maliciously killed her" and that he hopes to press murder or manslaughter charges against Cigna HealthCare for the death of Sarkisyan.
District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined to comment on the request for murder or manslaughter charges, saying it would be inappropriate to do so until Geragos submits evidence supporting his request.
"They took my daughter away from me," said Nataline's father, Krikor, who appeared at a news conference with his 21-year-old son, Bedros.
Cigna appears to have reversed its decision to deny the transplant after about 150 teenagers and nurses protested outside its Glendale office Thursday. "Protestors are here, the war is here," Hilda Sarkisyan, the girl's mother, told the group hours before her daughter's death. "We have a war here."
The Sarkisyan family claims that Cigna first agreed to the liver transplant surgery and had secured a match weeks ago. After the teen, who was battling leukemia, received a bone marrow transplant from her brother, however, she suffered a lung infection, and the insurer backed away from what it felt had become too risky a procedure.
"They're the ones who caused this. They're the one that told us to go there, and they would pay for the transplant," Hilda Sarkisyan said.
Geri Jenkins of the California Nurses Association said the Sarkisyans had insurance, and medical providers felt comfortable performing the medical procedure. In that situation, the the insurer should defer to medical experts, she said.
"They have insurance, and there's no reason that the doctors' judgment should be overrided by a bean counter sitting there in an insurance office," Jenkins said.
Doctors at the UCLA Medical Center actually signed a letter urging Cigna to review its decision. Nataline Sarkisyan was sedated into a coma to stabilize her as the family filed appeals in the case.
During the middle of Thursday's protest, Hilda Sarkisyan fielded a call from Cigna alerting her that her daughter's procedure had been given the green light. Cigna released a statement announcing the company "decided to make an exception in this rare and unusual case and we will provide coverage should she proceed with the requested liver transplant."
The cheers, however, soon gave way to concern as the the hospital called to say that Nataline's health had taken a serious downturn. The family was forced to make the decision to take her off life support, and she later died. The battle to convince Cigna to support the medical procedure had taken too long.
"My daughter … she's in God's hands right now," her father Greg Sarkisyan said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.