Our law firm has helped life insurance policy beneficiaries overturn wrongful claim denials for many, many years now. Throughout that time, we have worked with several legitimate life insurance companies and we have worked with others who give the entire industry a bad name. Sometimes, the more unscrupulous life insurers will issue claim denials or cause severe delays in claim payments under circumstances that seem downright cruel.
Perhaps the different strategies and tactics used by legitimate versus dishonest life insurance companies is best illustrated when a single disaster kills many people at the same time. Airline disasters are a perfect example of this. Legitimate life insurers will do what they can to get beneficiaries paid as quickly as possible. The less trustworthy companies, on the other hand, will use the disaster to their advantage – sometimes invoking policy technicalities to deny payment to grieving family members that have just experienced their worst nightmare.
If there is one commonality among airline disasters, it is that the wreckage typically does not yield the discovery of many bodies. The force of the airplane’s impact with the ground or water is so devastating that most everything on board the aircraft is destroyed beyond recognition. This can create some tragic dilemmas when it comes to collecting on the life insurance policy of a person who was killed in one of these accidents. This article explores one such crash.
When nightmares come true
The case resulted from the crash of a regional commercial jetliner in the state of Alaska. The plane was on its way to Juneau when it crashed into a mountain top, killing all 120 people aboard the flight. Crash investigators found it nearly impossible even to reach the site of the crash due to the deep snow and steep terrain. When they finally got there, they found exactly what they expected – the airplane had been completely blown apart in the crash and there were no recognizable human bodies to be recovered.
Nonetheless, records from the airport from which the plane had departed showed the names of all 120 people who had boarded the flight. Those records matched records maintained by the airline of the people who had either checked in for the flight or reported as crew on that day. Given this relatively solid record of precisely who had boarded the plane, the complete state of destruction of the aircraft, and the inescapable terrain where the plane had landed, investigators presumed that all passengers and crew had died in the crash. It was the only reasonable conclusion.
120 families lost their loved ones that day under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. Of course, many of those passengers had life insurance policies and in the weeks following the crash, many of their families filed claims for death benefits. Unfortunately, not all of them received the same response from their loved ones’ insurance company.
Separating the good insurers from the bad
It became really clear in the months following the crash that some insurance companies do business in a very different manner from their competitors. In this case, the industry watched as legitimate life insurance companies dutifully paid out on claims submitted by policy beneficiaries. Sadly, however, the industry also watched in horror as other insurance companies used the tragic details of the crash to deny or significantly delay payment on claims.
The reality of this particular crash was that there was absolutely no hope anyone survived. Additionally, the airline had superb records regarding exactly who had boarded the plane that day. Nonetheless, a handful of insurance companies denied claims submitted by the loved ones of crash victims based on policy technicalities that should never have been raised in this situation.
Specifically, those companies pointed to policy language saying that if the policyholder’s dead body was not presented to a coroner for processing, the claim could not be paid. That policy language, in and of itself, is not unusual or unlawful. In most cases, it is meant to derail fraud by people who intentionally disappear, and then try to have their beneficiaries to collect on a life insurance policy when they are not, in fact, dead. Here, there was no question that everyone who boarded that airplane did not survive the crash.
As you might imagine, these life insurance claim denials resulted in several lawsuits being filed by beneficiaries against the insurers. In retrospect, those lawsuits were a colossal waste of time and money for everyone involved. Almost uniformly, courts ruled that there was no question but that the policyholder had died in the airline disaster. Unless there was some other legitimate policy exception that justified non-payment, the beneficiaries received the full policy payouts. Unfortunately, these results came after the excruciating process of going through a lawsuit.
Fortunately, airline disasters are incredibly rare. Thus, we have written about this particular situation not because we anticipate a flood of clients who have gone through a similar situation (thank goodness), but rather to illustrate the vast difference in the way different insurance companies handle similar claims.
If you and your family are in the process of obtaining a life insurance policy, it is worth your time to research which companies have the best track record of paying out on claims. Although your policy premiums will undoubtedly be higher than if you choose a fly-by-night life insurer, you are doing your loved ones a favor if you can secure a policy with a highly rated insurance company.If, on the other hand, you are a policy beneficiary who finds yourself facing what seems to be an unreasonable claim denial, please feel free to contact our office today. We provide a free consultation and will give you a full assessment of your chances of having the claim denial decision overturned. If we decide to work together, our firm will not charge you a dime unless and until you receive monetary recovery from the insurance company. Call today. We're here to help.