If you’ve ever spent time around someone who loves sailing, you know that sailing is not just a hobby for them – it is a way of life. Somehow, it gets in their blood. Not too long after being introduced to the sport, many people begin saving up to buy a sailboat and fantasizing about their first major trip across the ocean.
Unfortunately, the sea is unpredictable. Even the best-planned ocean voyages can become deadly if conditions aren’t right, radio communications go down, the boat is harmed, or the novice sailor hasn’t appropriately stocked up with food or freshwater. To add insult to injury, the ocean is unforgiving. No one is likely to “drive by” and find you stranded.
Of course, this creates all sorts of problems for loved ones who are left behind. In addition to the grief and uncertainty, there is also an increased hardship surrounding all of the administrative tasks that one must undertake when someone they love passes away. As attorneys who specialize in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims, we are particularly concerned with the additional hurdles that arise when trying to make a claim against a policy when someone is lost at sea. This article discusses an illustrative case.
A love for adventure
The case involved a man in his early forties named Sean. Sean was an adventurer at heart. By the time he reached his 30th birthday, he had been on an African safari, run with the bulls in Pamplona, and summitted many of the world’s highest peaks. It took a lot of money to support all these adventures. Thus, in between epic trips, Sean went to law school, graduated at the top of his class, and got a job at a large firm in San Diego that paid very well.
During his time in San Diego, Sean was introduced to sailing. Many of the partners in his law firm had high-end sailboats that they used to entertain clients and friends alike. Sean proved himself to be a trustworthy deckhand on these excursions. He quickly became obsessed with sailing.
He read every book he could on ocean adventures, took every chance available to him to go out on the water with colleagues, and very quickly found himself shopping for the perfect catamaran. Once he found it, he secured a slip at the local marina and started spending every waking moment preparing himself and his boat for a grand voyage.
Along the way, he met and fell in love with Jessica. She was also a sailor. The two were excited not only to plan their wedding, but also to plan their honeymoon sailing trip from San Diego to Hawaii. Both being lawyers, they made sure to get their estates in order, just in case something dreadful happened along the way.
Among the things they did was to get their life insurance policies in order. They each changed their existing policies to name the other as the primary beneficiary. Knowing that they would go on several adventures together, however, Sean named his sister, Carrie, as a secondary beneficiary.
Unfortunate turn of events
Sean and Jessica set sail for Hawaii the day after their wedding. Neither had been on such a long sailing excursion before but they had both studied and prepared so hard for the trip that they were certain nothing would go wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not what was in the cards for them.
About half way to Hawaii, the couple encountered an unseasonal tropical storm. Waves were cresting at nearly 50 feet and the ocean seemed to toss their sailboat around like it was a toy in hot tub. The couple put a Mayday signal out to the Coast Guard but soon thereafter lost all communications with the outside world. Sean and Jessica never made it to Hawaii and they were heard from again.
Just over three months later, what was left of the couple’s boat was spotting by a shipping vessel drifting around the Pacific Ocean. Rescue crews were summoned but there was simply no sign of Sean or Jessica’s bodies. Their families were unsurprised but no less devastated by the news.
At that point, Carrie decided to make a claim against Sean’s policy. The claim process required that, among other things, Carrie submit a copy of Sean’s death certificate. Given that Sean’s body had never been found, however, no death certificate had been issued. The life insurance company denied the claim on that basis. The insurer claimed Carrie could not prove that Sean hadn’t purposefully disappeared.
Luckily, there was a lawyer at Sean’s former firm that specialized in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims. Carrie turned to him. The lawyer knew that in order for Carrie to collect on the policy, they would need a court to issue a presumption of death that would allow for a death certificate to issue.
The lawyer put together a full evidence packet that included a summary of communications between Sean and anyone on shore during his last three days of life, evidence of the path the couple had sailed that was recorded via onboard tracking equipment, evidence from government weather agencies concerning the severity of the storm, and testimony regarding the condition of the couple’s boat and the great likelihood that no one would have survived any storm that so heavily damaged that sort of boat.
Ultimately, the lawyer was able to get the court to presume Sean was dead. This allowed Carrie to resubmit her life insurance claim, which she did with the help of her lawyer. The revised claim paperwork included the ruling that presumed Sean’s death. Fortunately, the life insurance company paid the claim in full at that point.If you have had a life insurance claim denied for any reason whatsoever, don’t just presume that denial is correct. Call our firm for a free consultation. We may be able to get you the monies you’re owed. Call today. We’re here to help.