As attorneys who specialize in overturning the wrongful denial of life insurance claims, you can imagine that we are often in grave disagreement with life insurance companies. Nonetheless, there are rare instances when even we agree that a life insurer can legitimately deny a claim.
One such instance involves a general principle of law: if one person intentionally kills another, the person who caused the death should not profit from that death. For example, if one person murders another, the law generally prohibits the murderer from collecting the proceeds of the deceased person’s will. Likewise, one who intentionally causes the death of another typically cannot collect life insurance proceeds from the person who was killed.
We fully agree that a life insurance claim filed by a murderer should not be paid by the insurer. That said, we only believe that to be the case if it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the life insurance beneficiary did, in fact, commit murder. In far too many cases, a life insurance company will label someone a “murderer” just to deny – or significantly delay – payout on an otherwise valid claim.
This article explores one such case.
A shocking murder
The life insurance policyholder in this particular case was a man named Brad. Brad was a local businessman who was well-respected in his community. He had a wife, Kathy, and 2 adult children at the time he passed away. Perhaps the only thing that was unusual about Brad was the manner in which he died.
One night in late fall, Kathy was out of state on a business trip. Sometime that evening, someone broke into the house Brad and Kathy shared together. They shot Brad in the back of the head at close range. He died instantly. Sadly, Kathy was the one to discover his body when she returned from her trip.
Obviously, she called police right away and they immediately began and intense investigation in an attempt to locate Brad's murderer. Given that spouses are usually the number one suspect in murder cases, the police began to investigate Kathy before they did almost anything else.
What they found was that Kathy had a complete alibi for the night of her husband's murder. On her work trip, she was forced to share a hotel room with a coworker. That coworker was able to verify that Kathy was in the hotel room that entire evening.
Furthermore, the police scoured Kathy's computers, tablets, and cell phones for any evidence of an affair or dissatisfaction with her marriage to Brad. Rather than finding any such evidence, they found the exact opposite. Kathy's email account was full of correspondence with lifelong friends regarding how lucky she felt in her marriage. There was simply no evidence to suggest Kathy might have hired anyone else to murder her husband.
As such, the police kept searching for another murderer even though they had no one on their suspect list. Brad didn't have any enemies, wasn't in debt to anyone, and hadn’t been targeted for a robbery. Nonetheless, the police had to keep digging. Until they found and convicted the murderer, the case would have to remain “open” on their books.
Like being accused all over again
As noted, Kathy was cleared by the police as a suspect in her husband's death relatively quickly. As soon as that process ended, Kathy had no choice but to get on with the business of life. One of the things she needed to do was file a claim with brad's life insurance company.
As required by the insurer, Kathy's claim included the following: (1) a copy of Brad’s death certificate; (2) all police reports concerning Brad’s death; and (3) all known newspaper articles or obituaries concerning Brad’s death. Kathy understood why they requested all of that documentation and didn't anticipate that the things she submitted would cause any problems with her claim.
Nonetheless, a few weeks later Kathy received a letter in the mail from a claims adjuster. The letter stated that the life insurance company was issuing a provisional denial of Kathy’s claim. It said that because no other person had been arrested and convicted in connection with Brad's death, the insurance company could not clear Kathy as a suspect to that murder. Therefore, it was denying her claim until some other person was convicted for the crime.
Kathy was shocked. At this point, brad's death was a true mystery. The police literally had no suspects. Importantly, however, the police had cleared Kathy as a suspect. She didn't understand how the police could be so certain she did not commit the murder while the insurance company still considered her a suspect. Thus, Kathy contacted a lawyer specializing in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims.
The attorney had to be truthful with Kathy -- this was going to be a difficult claim to overturn. It was not unusual for a life insurance company to deny paying a claim where the insured's murderer had not yet been found. Nonetheless, Kathy's case was a bit unusual in that the police were so confident she was not involved in the death. In fact, the attorney was able to get sworn statements from several investigators acknowledging that Kathy was no longer a suspect in Brad’s murder.
Although the attorney was not certain that would be enough to overturn the provisional denial, he took the evidence to the insurance company anyway. He requested a hearing before the company’s internal appeals board. At that hearing, in addition to the sworn declarations, he had the chief investigator of testify under oath. Kathy, the investigator explained, simply was not a viable suspect in her husband's murder. Fortunately, that testimony was enough to get the appeals board to overturn the denial.We hope you are never faced with a situation where a life insurer accuses you of causing someone else’s death. If you are, however, or even if you have received another life insurance claim denial that makes you feel uneasy, please call our attorneys to discuss the situation today. We're here to help.