Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, expectedly serves up a quick and dirty glimpse at the consequences of unfettered corporate corruption and exploitation. But the most disturbing story of corporate greed in the film, unfortunately, comes right from our own backyard.
Houston widow Irma Johnson makes her silver-screen debut when Moore interviews her about a "dead peasant" insurance policy Amegy Bank took out on her husband while he was an employee.
As Hair Balls explained in June, Johnson only found out about the policy because a check was accidentally forwarded to her instead of the bank after his death.
We followed up with Johnson's attorney, Mike Myers, of McClanahan Myers Espey, to see if Moore's film portrayed an accurate picture of the case.
"It's accurate but it didn't go into much detail about how outrageous it is that the policies were purchased after Amegy found out [Johnson] had brain cancer," he said.
According to Myers, Moore left out the fact that Amegy purchased two "dead peasant" insurance policies in 2001, totaling more than $4 million, after Johnson had already undergone two brain surgeries and was undergoing chemotherapy.
And that's not the worst.
A few weeks after Johnson unknowingly signed the paperwork for the policies, Amegy fired him, thus taking away his medical insurance as well, said Myers. Johnson wasn't even an employee when Amegy Bank was paid $4.5 million for his death in 2008.
"It's not unusual. Amegy just kept paying the premiums after he was fired. The only gamble is how long [the corporation] will have to keep paying the premiums," he said.
Myers is no stranger to "dead peasant" insurance lawsuits. In 2004, he successfully settled a $10.4 million lawsuit with Wal-Mart on behalf of more than 350 families of employees who had been secretly insured by the company.
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It's not legal, said Myers. "I have a 'consent and notice' paper on my desk from the 2009 Florida Bar Journal. Most companies are simply ignoring the law. The insurance policies are pretty easy to get. The material disclosures are not," said Myers.
The companies are only forced to disclose information when they are taken to court. "That's why we sued," he said.
Calls and emails to Amegy Bank for comment have not been returned but the public relations departments of several companies may be in for a busy Monday after the film's release tomorrow.
Moore implicates several companies of taking part in "dead peasant" insurance schemes, including Bank of America, AT&T, Wal-Mart and Citibank to name just a few. You can find out if your company is fingered when Capitalism: A Love Story opens.