Local News

WRAL Investigates Morrisville Insurance Company

Posted February 20, 2002

— When your children play sports, you may think they are covered by insurance in case they get hurt. Not necessarily. A teenager in Houston was paralyzed in a lacrosse game and was almost left without any coverage because of what a company in Morrisville did and did not do.

Chase Swonke, 18, played defense for his Houston-area lacrosse team until an injury during a December game left him paralyzed.

"I can move from the chest up. I just don't have finger movement yet," he said.

His team thought it had insurance, but it said Benefit Design Associates (BDA), the Morrisville agency that cashed the team's premium check, apparently kept the money and never renewed the team's policy. Lucky for Swonke, Dori Clark, the team's secretary, took out another policy right before the game after becoming suspicious about BDA, a company which marketed itself as sports insurance specialists.

"All I got was a voice mail. The first time it said this mailbox was full, the second time I left a message and didn't hear back from anybody," she said.

If Swonke did not have coverage, his family said they would have been stuck with medical bills possibly exceeding $1 million, all because of BDA.

"It's criminal. They really left an unforseen number of people in the lurch who thought it was just as it had always been," Tim Swonke, Chase's father, said.

It turns out BDA cashed the lacrosse team's check of $334 just days after agreeing to surrender its corporate license in North Carolina. The State Department of Insurance was apparently onto BDA's game.

Investigators had determined the company pocketed more than a half-million dollars in premium checks from two national organizations, U.S. Lacrosse and USA Gymnastics, that hold and sponsor a variety of tournaments for kids.

"Anytime you have a situation where someone's handling large sums of money, you get that temptation," said State Insurance Commissioner Jim Long.

Neighboring businesses said BDA closed up shop in Morrisville months ago, but WRAL did find the woman who owned BDA, Sally Bruns, at her home in Cary. She referred all questions to her attorney and made just one comment.

"Everything you're seeing doesn't mean it's true. There is someone involved in another state," she said.

That is something that Bruns or the state would not elaborate on. Part of her agreement with the state said she can never again sell insurance in North Carolina.

The day WRAL visited Bruns' home, it appeared she may be getting ready to move somewhere else, and that is what scares the parents involved with the lacrosse team in Houston.

"It makes you wonder how many more of these businesses are out there," Tim Swonke said.

The state Department of Insurance said it is also in the middle of a criminal investigation of Bruns and BDA, but it will not say anything more than that. The department said if you have any doubts about an insurance agent or company, call the department. It can tell you about the agent or company's license status, or if any complaints have been filed against them.

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