Life Insurance Lawyer Vermont
Whether you reside in: Winooski; Montpelier; Barre; Rutland; South Burlington or Burlington; our life insurance attorneys who live and work here in Vermont are here to help resolve your delayed or denied life insurance claim.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Our Vermont life insurance attorneys are now handling numerous COVID-19 Coronavirus denied life insurance claims.
When a life insurance beneficiary accidentally kills the policy holder
If there’s one thing we know from spending years fighting the wrongful denial of life insurance claims, it is that life insurance companies go to great lengths to try to avoid making policy payouts. If you look at this practice from a pure business perspective, it makes sense. Life insurance companies are for-profit entities. Therefore, the less money they have to spend on paying claims, the more profitable they are at the end of the year.
Sometimes, however, the claim denial decisions made by insurers border on the ludicrous. They have a practice of twisting and manipulating policy language to make a policyholder’s circumstances of death fit within even the most obscure policy exclusions. In fact, the insurers hire more lawyers than you can imagine for that very purpose.
One of the more unfortunate exclusions that we’ve seen life insurance companies rely on in recent years is sometimes called the “felony exclusion.” If you are a fan of television crime dramas, you may be familiar with the concept. In essence, the felony exclusion says that if a life insurance policy beneficiary intentionally kills the policyholder, the beneficiary does not get to collect the policy payout.
This makes sense from a moral perspective. One person should not be able to profit from the death of another. But what happens if the death was accidental? This article explains one such case, and how the beneficiary was finally able to recover the full policy benefit after hiring a lawyer specializing in life insurance claim denials.
A tragedy all the way around
This case involved a couple named Jane and Mark. Jane was an executive with a large alcohol distributor. As part of her employment, she received an extensive benefits package which included a group life insurance plan. Jane’s life was insured for $500,000 and she named Mark as her sole beneficiary under the policy.
One afternoon in late winter, the couple set out in their Mercedes SUV to visit Jane’s parents who lived just over 100 miles away. The temperature was well below freezing, but because it was supposed to stop snowing for a few hours, Jane and Mark thought it was safe to set out on their drive. Mark was behind the wheel and Jane, who was exhausted from a busy holiday season at work, decided to lay down in the back seat to sleep.
About an hour into their trip, Mark hit a patch of ice on the freeway and lost control of the vehicle. Witnesses said the SUV spun several times before careening off the edge of the freeway and landing on its roof in a deep rut on the side of the freeway. In the process, Jane (who was not wearing a seatbelt) was thrown from the car, landing nearly 30 feet away. Jane did not survive the crash.
First responders arrived at the scene within moments and an investigation ensued. After speaking with witnesses and doing a forensic study of the scene, police investigators concluded that Mark had been driving approximately 15 miles per hour over the speed limit when he lost control of the vehicle. The final police report noted that fact and also noted that Mark was aware his wife wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.
Predictably, Mark was overwhelmed with grief. People who knew him well knew that the last thing he ever would have wanted to do was hurt his wife in any way. Now, at the young age of 47, he was facing life without his best friend and partner. He was so devastated that he could barely function.
A shocking accusation from the life insurer
A few weeks after the accident, Mark was able to submit a claim to Jane’s life insurance company. The claim process involved filling out a form regarding the circumstances of the death, and submitting a death certificate and the police report regarding the accident. At the time, Mark had no reason to suspect the insurance company would deny the claim.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Mark received a letter from the insurance company that nearly made him pass out from shock. In relevant part, it read:
We regret to inform you that we are not able to honor the claim made against your wife’s life insurance policy. After reviewing the documents submitted with your claim, we have determined that your actions on the evening of the accident were instrumental in causing your wife’s death. Specifically, you were exceeding the posted speed limit in inclement weather. Additionally, as the driver of the car, it was your responsibility to ensure all passengers were wearing safety restraints. The police report indicates your wife was not wearing a seat belt. Your wife’s policy contains a coverage exclusion in the event the beneficiary caused the policyholder’s death. Due to the acts and omissions outlined above, we must apply this exclusion and deny your claim.
Incensed, Mark immediately found a lawyer specializing in the wrongful denial of life insurance claims. The lawyer reviewed his case and recognized that the insurer was simply trying to exploit Mark’s grief and guilt in an effort to avoid paying out on a perfectly valid claim. Without delay, the attorney filed a lawsuit against the insurance company on Mark’s behalf.
Ultimately, the court recognized that the exclusion the insurance company was trying to rely was really intended to prevent a claim payout if the beneficiary was the intentional murderer of the policyholder. In this instance, Mark’s actions, while perhaps slightly negligent, were not undertaken with malice. Accordingly, the court ordered the insurer to pay Mark’s claim in full, with interest.
If you have had a life insurance claim denied for this or any other reason, please don’t hesitate to contact our firm. We’ll assess your case and let you know if we can help you get the policy benefit that was intended for you. Call today. We’re here to help.
- 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.