For more than twenty years, our firm has practiced almost exclusively in the area of the wrongful denial of life insurance claims. Consequently, we have seen some downright bizarre reasons that insurance companies have tried to deny claims. We have also seen circumstances where the life insurance company’s attempt to get away with a claim denial is simply cruel to the people who were counting on the policy payout.
So often, our job in overturning a claim denial decision is relatively easy. The life insurance companies know that once they're up against a specialized lawyer, they are unlikely to prevail against a wronged beneficiary. Nonetheless, these companies continue to issue bogus denials because they also know that most beneficiaries will never take the extra step of hiring an attorney to protect their rights.
We find that this is especially true in circumstances where the life insurance company can make the beneficiary feel some sort of shame. For example, if a life insurance company can accuse a beneficiary of forging the signature on a Change of Beneficiary form, most people will run away from a resultant claim denial letter rather than standing up for themselves against the insurer.
This article explores one case where a wronged beneficiary did find the strength to hire a lawyer and to stand up to a life insurance company who was accusing her of terrible things. We are glad to report that ultimately, she prevailed in having her claim denial overturned.
A second marriage marred by tragedy
The policyholder in the case at issue was a gentleman named Dan. Dan had been a Coast Guard officer for his entire career. He retired with all sorts of honors and was given a huge retirement party. Around the time that all of this celebration was happening, however, Dan had some personal problems at home. Specifically, he and his first wife were in the throes of a divorce.
Dan quickly found himself a newly-retired person without anyone to explore retired life with. Six months later, however, Dan met another woman named Ella and fell deeply in love. Within a year, Dan and Ella were married and we're starting what they thought would be a long and adventuresome life together.
Tragically, just a few weeks after their wedding, Dan was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a neurological disorder that progress is quickly, has the effect of rendering a person's body nearly immobile, and ultimately causes death. As Dan's disease progressed, he began to recognize that there were several affairs he needed to put in order before he died.
One of the things he needed to get done was to change the beneficiary under his life insurance policy from his first wife to Ella. He spoke to Ella about this and she agreed to obtain a Change of Beneficiary form from his life insurance company's website. She printed the form and filled in all of the information required to make her into Dan's sole life insurance beneficiary.
There was only one problem. By the time the couple undertook this step, Dan was physically unable to make his signature on the form. Not being familiar with the laws in this circumstance and not wanting to spend the money on an attorney, the couple came up with their own solution. Ella would sign the form on Dan's behalf while a friend videotaped the signing. Just prior to making the signature, however, the friend videotaped Dan verbally expressing his desire to make Ella the beneficiary. Ella mailed the completed form along with a CD containing the videotapes to Dan's life insurance company.
Just a few days later, Dan passed away in his sleep. His death came months sooner than anyone ever expected. Ella, while devastated, knew she had business to take care of. One of the items she needed to handle was making a claim with Dan's life insurance company. She diligently submitted all of the forms required by his insurer.
Rather than having the claim paid, however, Ella received a claim denial letter in the mail just a few weeks later. In the letter, the insurance company flat-out accused Ella of forging Dan's recent change of beneficiary form. Ella was shocked. She had specifically sent the evidence of Dan’s intentions to avoid this result.
Now angered by the insurance company’s drastic accusations, Ella hired an attorney specializing in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims. She explained the circumstances, gave the attorney the Change of Beneficiary form and all relevant claim documents, and gave the attorney a copy of the two videotapes showing Dan's intentions. Finally, she gave the attorney a copy of the email whereby she alerted the insurance company that all these materials were on the way.
After reviewing the evidence, the attorney knew exactly what happened. The insurance company had simply ignored the videotaped evidence of Dan's intentions. Instead, they used a suspicious looking Change of Beneficiary form as an excuse to deny a valid claim. The attorney called the insurance adjuster who had written the claim denial letter and alerted him that if the issue was not remedied within one week's time, Ella would be filing suit against the insurance company.
Ultimately, Ella did have to file suit but the case was very quickly referred to arbitration. At the arbitration, Ella’s attorney did not waste much time in presenting the compelling evidence of Dan's wishes. The insurance company, on the other hand, had no evidence to refute Ella’s emotional videotapes.
Consequently, the arbitrator ruled that the life insurance company had to pay Ella the full policy benefit, plus interest. While that is a good result, it is still tragic that Ella had to go through all of these processes while grieving the death of her new husband.
Terms you will hear frequently with respect to forged signatures relating to denied life insurance claims are: genuine signature; types of forgery; personal signature; intent to deceive; and signed someone else.If you have had a life insurance claim denied for reasons you believe are unjust, please call our firm today. We are here to help you work it all out.