Insurance Consumers Win As Companies Are Made To Pay For Unfair Practices

Insurance consumer advocates have won another big battle recently, as the insurance regulatory agencies from Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida finalized a settlement with Bankers Life and Casualty Company.  Pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement, the insurance company must pay a fine of $3.2 million for its failure to comply with regulatory recommendations imposed following an investigation of its practices in 2007.

The investigation found fault with many aspects of Bankers Life’s policies and procedures, including the company’s claims handling practices, and it ultimately led to the issuance of various recommendations to bring Bankers Life into compliance with states’ insurance regulations.  The 2012 review of the company’s progress revealed that it had failed to bring claims investigation, denial, and settlement procedures into compliance with the 2007 recommendations, specifically in the annuities, long-term care, and life insurance lines of business.

The settlement agreement reached with Bankers Life is just one of many recent settlements between state insurance regulatory agencies and insurance companies.  This trend is an important step forward for insurance consumers, as it shows that states are no longer willing to let insurance companies get away with unfair and misleading claims handling practices.  If your claim has been delayed or denied, you should consult with an experienced life insurance attorney to ensure that you are not a victim of non-compliant or abusive insurance practices.

To review the 2007 and 2012 agreements, visit http://insurance.mo.gov/Contribute%20Documents/conseco-bankers_Stip.pdf and http://insurance.illinois.gov/newsrls/2012/11/BankersExecutedRSA.pdf.

Don’t Let the Not Necessarily Limiting ‘Suit Limitation’ Clause Deny Your Rightful Claim

Insurance policyholders face many hurdles when a loss occurs.  One such hurdle involves the time in which a law suit must be filed after the insurance company denies your claim.  Suit limitation clauses greatly reduce the time-period to pursue even an illegitimate insurance claim denial.  While the Statute of Limitations for a breach of contract claim typically runs for 6-10 years (depending on the applicable state law), suit limitation clauses may reduce this window to as little as 12 months.  This is particularly problematic because limitation provisions are buried deep within lengthy, complex insurance policies and fail to provide actual and sufficient notice to policyholders.

Though a suit limitation clause functions much like a Statute of Limitations, in that both provide a specific time-period in which a suit may be brought, the difference between the two is important to note.  Significantly, a suit limitation clause is a condition imposed by contract, rather than by statute or law.  Therefore, the application or enforcement of a suit limitation clause may be challenged.

Like most issues relating to insurance policies, the law governing a contract’s suit limitation clause differs from state to state.  The majority of jurisdictions uphold such provisions, though some have not.  In those states where limitation clauses are considered valid, certain restrictions may be imposed on their use, with some states providing more protection for insured parties than other states.  Illinois, for example, extends the contractual limitation by the amount of time the insurance company takes to process the claim.  In other words, the period of time in which an insured may bring a law suit “tolls” for the number of days that pass from the filing of the claim to the date of the denial.

Further, states may provide additional protection against statute limitation clauses in the form of applying a notification requirement.  In Illinois, an insurance company waives its right to impose a time limitation clause if the denial notice does not include the remaining time-period for bringing a law suit.  The rules in Pennsylvania are less protective, on the other hand, with courts finding that a denial letter does not necessarily need to specify the amount of time to bring suit in order for a limitation clause to apply.

The effect of suit limitation clauses can be devastating to policyholders whose claims have been illegitimately denied, giving an insurance company the incentive to delay processing of the claim, and ultimately, the ability to escape liability.  If your insurance claim has been delayed or denied, you should speak to an insurance attorney immediately.  Even if you think too much time has passed to dispute your wrongfully denied claim, we may be able to help collect the life or property insurance proceeds you deserve.

The Insurable Interest Doctrine and Its Effect on Your Life Insurance Claim

It may seem surprising that life insurance claims are commonly denied, and for many different reasons.  Life insurance companies reportedly refuse payment on approximately 5,000 policies each year, although we believe this figure is much higher.  One interesting reason that life insurance claims can be denied involves the lack of an insurable interest.  According to the insurable interest doctrine, in most states an individual cannot take an insurance policy out on the life of another person without having a legally-recognized insurable interest in that person’s life.  In other words, one cannot insure the life of another unless he or she derives some benefit or advantage from the continuance of the insured’s life.  The law does not want to encourage the practice of “wagering” on the life of another.  Allowing an individual to procure a policy on someone’s life without requiring the existence of an insurable interest may open the door to crimes being committed against the insured person.

The rules setting forth what constitutes a sufficient relationship differ amongst the states.  Generally, states consider the insurable interest requirement to be satisfied by blood ties or other affection-based relationships.  In many states, a monetary tie such as a business partnership is sufficient to create an insurable interest.  The line drawn by the various state statutes remains fuzzy, to say the least.  The majority of courts have found that determining whether a relationship gives rise to a sufficient insurable interest is a fact issue, meaning it is determinable on a case-by-case basis.

Whether an insurable interest exists is relatively easy to determine in some relationships.  For example, a husband and wife will almost always be found to have an insurable interest in each other’s lives.  But what about an unmarried couple?  Or grandparents and grandchildren?  Even the relationship between parent and child is treated differently depending on the state where the policy is issued.  For example, Illinois courts have found that the blood tie alone can be insufficient and have, in some cases, required a showing of monetary interest in order to bolster the insurable interest.  In New York and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, the parent-child relationship alone establishes an insurable interest sufficient to take out a life policy.

To further complicate the insurable interest doctrine, courts have held that expiration of the contestable period for life insurance policies does not defeat a claim denial for lack of an insurable interest.  Typically, insurance companies have a 2-year period to challenge the validity of a policy.  The vast majority of jurisdictions have held, however, that a lack of insurable interest can be raised to challenge a policy’s validity at any time, even after the contestable period has passed.  In New York, an outlier state, life insurance companies cannot refuse payment on such a basis unless the challenge was raised within the contestable period, which begins to run on the policy’s date of issue.

The lack of uniformity with respect to what constitutes an insurable interest can cause a great deal of confusion for beneficiaries.  Without the assistance of an experienced life insurance attorney, a proper beneficiary may lose the right to collect against a policy based on an insurance company’s arbitrary determination that a sufficient insurable interest does not exist.  If your life insurance claim has been delayed or denied, you should speak to a life insurance lawyer about the facts specific to your case immediately.

State Probes Into Wrongful Life Insurance Practices May Lead To Your Lost Policy

The nation’s largest life insurance companies are feeling the heat as some states investigate wrongful insurance practices, particularly with respect to locating beneficiaries after an insured has died. In fact, it is estimated that tens of thousands of life insurance beneficiaries have been deprived of approximately $1 billion (or more) in unclaimed proceeds. Many of the life insurance companies currently under fire continue to claim that it is the sole responsibility of the beneficiary to notify the company of an insured’s death.

Life insurance beneficiaries often do not know a policy exists, however, and may not be in the best position to find out. Sometimes beneficiaries know about a loved one’s policy but do not know which life insurance company to contact and are unable to locate the policy documents.  Even worse, life insurance companies may mislead a beneficiary who does not have a copy of the policy and deter them from filing of a claim.  When thousands of policies go unclaimed every year, insurance companies just sit on the money.

But a life insurance company does not know when an insured has died, right? Wrong. State probes revealed that these companies have routinely checked the Social Security Administration’s ‘Death Master File’ for decades to discontinue annuity payments.  Until recently, life insurance companies never used the same source to notify beneficiaries of unclaimed policies.

In the past several months, multi-state settlement agreements have been reached with leading life insurance companies, including Prudential, John Hancock, and Metropolitan Life. The States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, New York, California, and Florida are among the leaders of these probes. As a condition of the agreements, participating life insurance companies will be required to improve their practices and make better attempts to locate the beneficiaries of unclaimed policies. The problem with locating past unpaid beneficiaries, though, remains.

The issue that state regulators are not addressing is the inability to locate older records of unpaid policies. Life insurance companies are only required to keep records of “terminated” policies for a certain period of years. Consider that when an insured dies and a life insurance company no longer receives premium payments, the policy will be treated as “terminated.”  Years later, because these policies are not properly held as unclaimed property, the records are destroyed, leaving the beneficiary responsible for proving the life insurance company’s liability. Of course, if the beneficiary had such proof, the claim would not have been delayed.

If you believe that an insurance company owes you money, speak to a life insurance attorney about your options right away.  The Life & Property Insurance Law Offices of Heather D. Lee can assist you in filing your life insurance claim, demanding that the company pay you immediately and with all applicable interest accrued as a result of the delay.  We work aggressively to collect wrongfully delayed and denied life insurance claims and do not charge any fees whatsoever unless we are successful.

Common Reasons For Delaying & Denying Life Insurance Claims

At least 5,000 life insurance claims are denied in the United States every year, and even more policies go unclaimed.  People are usually surprised to discover that life insurance companies can delay or deny claims for many different reasons.  In fact, most people believe that when an insured passes away, the beneficiary receives a payout immediately.  Unfortunately, this is too often not the case.  Like most businesses, life insurance companies are motivated by profit, having a strong financial incentive to collect premiums but later deny as many life insurance claims as possible, or to delay claims as long as possible.

DELAYED LIFE INSURANCE CLAIMS

If a life insurance company has failed to promptly issue payment of your life insurance proceeds, you may have a claim for breach of contract and bad faith insurance practices.  Life insurance companies must investigate your claim within a reasonable period of time, usually within sixty (60) days of the claim being filed or in accordance with the life insurance policy terms.  An insurance company may attempt to discourage you from hiring a life insurance lawyer by wrongfully delaying your life insurance claim, offering a reduced settlement amount, or making other efforts to avoid paying the full claim.

Some common tactics that life insurance companies will use to wrongfully delay your claim include but are not limited to the following:

Insured’s Death Occurring Within Contestable Period
Hospital Records/Medical Documentation Not Yet Received
Hospital or Medical Provider Refuses to Release Records
Failure to Provide Income Tax Returns
Failure to Provide Non-existent Medical Documentation
Independent Investigation Based on Suspicious Cause of Death
Independent Medical Review to Dispute Evidence
Beneficiary Dispute Based On Divorce
Beneficiary Dispute Based On Suspicious Cause of Death

No matter how badly you need the insurance proceeds, you should never accept a settlement offer without the advice of an experienced life insurance attorney.  An offer to settle your claim for a reduced amount may indicate that the insurance company’s reason for delaying or denying your claim is illegitimate.

To discourage beneficiaries from pursuing a wrongfully denied life insurance claim, life insurance companies will mail complex denial letters designed to confuse you.  Life insurance companies know that you are likely unfamiliar with the life insurance contract itself, or with your rights as the beneficiary.

Some common tactics that insurance companies will use to wrongfully deny your claim include but are not limited to the following:

Policy Lapse Due to Nonpayment
Misrepresentations Regarding Age, Employment and/or Income
Failure to Disclose Immaterial Pre-Existing Medical Condition
Failure to Disclose Medical Appointments/Regular Check-Ups
Failure to Disclose Unknown/Unofficial Medical Diagnosis
Failure to Disclose Condition Requiring Future Treatment
Failure to Disclose Prior Alcohol, Drug, or Tobacco Use
Failure to Disclose Criminal History on Application for Insurance
Accidental Death Related to Independent Medical Condition
Accidental Death Actually Self-Inflicted
Accidental Death Caused by Alcohol/Drug Use or Crime
Accidental Death Not Occurring Within Specific Time/Date
Accidental Overdose Caused by Misuse of Medication
Policy Not Active Due to Death Occurring Prior to Effective Date
Policy Not Active Based on Period of Limited Activity Exclusion
Independent Investigation Based on Suspicious Cause of Death
Insufficient Evidence to Show Heart Attack
Independent Medical Examiner Disputes Evidence
Change In Health After Policy Lapse Due to Nonpayment
Change In Health Condition Prior to Effective Date of Insurance
Handwriting Expert Claims False Application Signature
Failure to Elect and/or Qualify for Employment Coverage
Failure to Convert Employment Coverage to Individual Policy
Insurance Company Not Responsible for Agency Errors
Insured Not Resident of United States on Date of Death
Failure to Properly Change Beneficiary
Policy Lapse Due to Depleted Cash Value

Many insurance companies have large legal departments prepared to defend denied life insurance claims, which can discourage a beneficiary from hiring a life insurance attorney, appealing a denied life insurance claim, or filing a law suit.

The Life & Property Insurance Law Offices of Heather D. Lee, Esquire are familiar with the various tactics used by life insurance companies to delay and deny claims, and we are experienced in pressuring insurance companies to quickly complete the claims process and pay all proceeds due under their life insurance policies.  If your insurance claim is being wrongfully delayed or denied, Contact Us for your free case evaluation today.

 

Heather D. Lee, Esquire Wins Reinstatement Of Policy When Life Insurance Company Failed To Give Notice Of Payment Lapse

Insurance companies must generally notify an insured when a policy is at risk of lapsing due to nonpayment.  Such notification may be required by statute, as a term in the insurance contract, or by customary practice.  Policies commonly provide for a grace period of thirty-one (31) days, which allows an insured to avoid cancellation of insurance coverage if premiums are paid within the specified time-frame.  This is especially important with respect to life insurance policies because coverage is based on the applicant’s health at the time the policy becomes active.  In other words, if a life insurance contract lapses after the grace-period expires, reinstatement is subject to the same medical underwriting requirements as an application for a new policy.

Consider the following example: Larger-Than-Life Insurance Company (LTL) issues a life insurance policy to Youthful Yolanda, who faithfully pays her premiums for 15 years by monthly automatic withdrawals from her bank account.  Last month, though, Yolanda’s premium payment was returned due to insufficient funds in her account, triggering a 31-day grace period.  Despite LTL’s customary practice of notifying insureds when automatic premium withdrawals are returned, it fails to notify Yolanda that her policy will soon lapse. Unfortunately, Yolanda did not realize the payment was returned, resulting in the cancellation of her life insurance policy.  Since Yolanda is not so youthful anymore, and her health has changed over the past 15 years, she is no longer eligible for a new life insurance policy.  Even though LTL is entitled to keep all of her previous payments, Yolanda no longer has coverage and LTL refuses to reinstate her lapsed policy.

This is a fairly common story, with variations.  Sometimes insurance companies mail the appropriate notification too late, or to an incorrect mailing address because it has failed to process an address-change request.  Just this month, the Life & Property Insurance Law Offices of Heather D. Lee, Esquire successfully fought for reinstatement of a life insurance policy that lapsed when a major insurance company mailed notification of an overdue premium payment after the grace period had already expired.  Even a timely mailing may not contain the proper information to provide sufficient notice, such as the amount due or the date a policy will terminate.

If your life insurance policy has lapsed for nonpayment, or if you are a beneficiary whose claim has been denied because a policy lapsed prior to the insured’s death, you should speak to an experienced life insurance lawyer about your rights.  Heather D. Lee, Esquire offers free consultations on all life and property insurance cases.

Don Cornelius’ Ex-Wife May Collect $300,000 In Life Insurance Benefits Despite Suicide

The recent suicide of Don Cornelius and subsequent reports that his ex-wife, Viktoria Chapman Cornelius, is entitled to collect approximately $300,000 in life insurance benefits has caused a great deal of confusion.  Many of us wrongly assume that an act of suicide automatically precludes recovery against any life insurance policy.  In fact, no such “blanket” exclusion exists in life insurance law, and whether a beneficiary will collect life insurance proceeds following a suicide ultimately depends upon the terms of each policy.

On February 1, 2012, TMZ made a misleading report that Viktoria Chapman Cornelius has “score[d] huge life insurance payout” based on California law.  According to the TMZ Article, the ex-couple’s divorce decree provides that Viktoria was to remain beneficiary of two life insurance policies, and “[u]nder California law, if a policyholder commits suicide within [two] years of the time the policy is issued, the company can deny payment.”  TMZ prematurely concluded that because Don Cornelius took out the policy more than two years ago, Viktoria would undoubtedly collect the life insurance proceeds.  However, her right to the subject benefits cannot be confirmed without a thorough legal review of the life insurance contracts, and any reports based solely on “California law” are unfounded.

Typically, life insurance policies do expressly deny coverage for death by suicide, and such policies contain an exclusionary clause and often a definition of suicide.  For example, life insurance contracts may include a provision similar to the following: “If the insured, whether sane or insane, dies by suicide within two years from the date of the policy, no benefits are payable.”  These exclusions are generally recognized as valid.

An issue surrounding death by suicide arises, with or without an exclusionary clause, under Accidental Death & Dismemberment policies.  The concept of denying AD&D coverage for suicide is easier to understand because an intentional taking of one’s life can hardly be considered an accident.  In most cases, though, the life insurance company has the burden to prove that an insured’s death was committed with the requisite suicidal intent, and a mere intent to inflict pain which results in death will not be sufficient.  Indeed, numerous life insurance cases have involved an insured’s death caused by “erotic asphyxiation,” or the act of intentionally choking oneself or otherwise restricting oxygen to the brain for sexual gratification.  Under these circumstances, a self-inflicted death will not be considered an intentional suicide for the purposes of life insurance coverage.  Thus, while Viktoria Chapman Cornelius may collect the full $300,000 in benefits, additional information about the specific terms of Don Cornelius’ life insurance contracts is required to make a proper determination.

Don Cornelius was a pioneer whose enormous contribution to music, television, and popular culture will always be remembered and appreciated.  He is best known for his creation of “Soul Train” and its national exposure and tribute to decades of black artists and icons.  Don – wishing you eternal love, peace, and soul…