Life Insurance Lawyer Louisiana
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Disguised suicide isn’t fooling life insurance companies
It is no surprise that life insurance companies are extraordinarily cautious about suicide. If insurers indiscriminately paid out death benefits any time a policyholder took their own life, more people than we would like to admit would likely use suicide as a last-ditch financial planning method. For some, they might feel great relief if they knew they could get their family out of debt by taking their own life and allowing their loved ones to collect a large death benefit.
To hedge against this macabre reality, life insurance policies are very stringent when it comes to suicide. Some policies contain an outright policy exclusion if the policyholder commits suicide at any time during the life of the policy. Others contain a suicide exclusion that prevents the insurance company from having to pay a death benefit if the policyholder dies by suicide within the first two years of the issuance of that policy.
While these exclusions are understandable from a business standpoint, life insurance companies also abuse them heavily. As lawyers who specialize in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims, we have seen numerous insurers deny valid claims for death benefits by determining that the policyholder killed himself – even in cases where all police and coroner reports indicate the underlying death was accidental. Indeed, we successfully contest those bogus claim denials every day.
Unfortunately, however, the reverse is also true. Some people, desperate to get money in the hands of their beneficiaries and knowing of their policy’s suicide exclusion, will orchestrate a death that is intended not to look like suicide. This article explores one such case and serves as a cautionary tale for those who may be tempted to take a similar path.
[*Before we dive into the facts of relevant case, let us say this: if you are considering suicide in order to help your life insurance beneficiary’s financial position (or for any reason at all), please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That number is 1-800-273-8255.]
Individuals who are aware of the suicide exclusion in their life insurance policies sometimes go to great lengths to disguise their deaths as something other than suicide. Such was the case of one Vermont woman named Tina.
Tina had been well-off for her entire life but as she approached her 50s, she found herself in financial trouble for the first time. She had debts totaling over $3,000,000, two children to care for, a mortgage to pay, and a husband who had run off to another country in an attempt to avoid alimony.
Tina figured she had two strengths that might save her family – a $5 million life insurance policy and her ability to manipulate people into doing her bidding. Focusing on that second skill, she befriended a man who was instantly enamored with her. He was fiercely loyal, not terribly bright, and he would listen to her tales of woe for weeks on end. Indeed, within a matter of months, she had this man believing that the only way for her to save her children was to die.
Tina asked the man to purchase a shotgun and to rig the shotgun with ropes and wires such that she could point it at herself and pull the trigger. Ever dutiful, the man complied. He even agreed to come to her house after her death, collect the shotgun, and throw it into a lake before anyone discovered her body.
When the day came for Tina to carry out her plan, the shotgun rig didn’t work. When her friend later came to her house to collect the gun, he found Tina alive and exasperated with her failure. She begged the man to simply use the gun to shoot her and then dispose of the gun as they had planned. After some cajoling, he agreed. He fired two shots into Tina’s chest, which resulted in her death. Initial police and coroner reports indicated that Tina’s cause of death was a homicidal gunshot wound.
The insurance company didn’t buy it
Tina’s family later filed a claim for the $5,000,000 death benefit. Before paying out, however, the insurance company decided to conduct its own investigation. In short order, the company discovered all of Tina’s life circumstances and the fact that she had talked about wanting to die for several months preceding her death. Eventually, in conjunction with police detectives, they were also able to elicit a confession from the man who shot Tina.
Once news broke regarding the true manner of Tina’s death, her beneficiaries were certain they would receive the death payout under her life insurance policy. After all, the policy did not include a homicide exclusion. Thus, they were in for a big shock when the claim denial letter came in the mail. Based on all of the facts and circumstances that came to light during the investigation, the insurer was ruling Tina’s death a suicide.
The case ended up in a lawsuit between Tina’s beneficiaries and the insurer. Ultimately, the court agreed with the insurance company that Tina’s death was, in fact, a suicide. As such, the policy exclusion relieved the insurer from paying on the claim.
As noted above, our firm specializes in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims. We successfully overcome denials based on the insurer’s bogus determinations of suicide all the time. In the above case, however, the suicide conclusion seems to have been correct. The moral of this case is that suicide is never a good way out of a bad situation. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or someone else who can assist you.
If, on the other hand, you need assistance with a life insurance company’s wrongful denial of a claim based on a faulty determination of suicide, call us. We’ll review the circumstances of your case and, whenever possible, help you get the policy benefit that was intended for you.
- Number one is a misrepresentation on the application. This typically involves failing to disclose a medical condition. However, we can get over this hurdle the majority of the time.
- A lapse of a life insurance policy is probably second most common. What happens is that the insured gets sick and misses a payment or two. These are tough, but often we can get these claims paid.
- Probably third is the type of death exclusion. This could be a suicide or it could be a self-inflicted injury. Murder is another exclusion. Health again can fall under this exclusion. We often win suicide exclusions as we cite case law that the death was actually accidental.
- A very common exclusion is the alcohol exclusion. The insured may have been killed in a car crash, but the autopsy revealed alcohol in the person’s system. We have many legal briefs to combat this exclusion.
- Heroin and opiates or illegal drug exclusion is one of the biggest now. With the opioid crisis, there are tens of thousands of deaths.
- Prescription drug overdose exclusion may involve an overdose of medicine or taken medicines that are contraindicated.
- An ex-spouse being cut off from life insurance benefits is a big one. We actually have a half dozen ways to get over this hurdle.
- Having a spouse not listed as a beneficiary is another reason for denial
- Having a child not listed as a beneficiary is one too.
- Having only a primary beneficiary who is deceased is another.
- On an AD&D (accidental death and dismemberment) life insurance policy, a fall not being considered an accident is extremely common.
- The insured’s age not being correct on the initial application is a reason for denial.
- Having the wrong social security number listed is common.
- An autoerotic asphyxiation exclusion is an easy one for us to beat.
- An omission on the application is a big reason for denying a life insurance claim, but we have legal briefs to this effect.
- Not providing the required documents to the insurance company after death is a reason.
- Information which is argued to not be correct is one.
- When there is a dispute between two or more beneficiaries, an interpleader may occur, and we always get these resolved quickly.
- A beneficiary not named is a reason for not paying it out.
- A life insurance policy may be transferred from one company to another by the employer which causes major problems.