Accidental Death Becomes Suicide When Insurers Dodge Paying Life Benefits
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on March 1, 2011
Jane Pierce spent nine years struggling alongside her husband, Todd, as he fought cancer in his sinus cavity. The treatments were working. Then, in July 2009, Todd died in a fiery car crash. He was 46. That was the beginning of a whole new battle for Jane Pierce, this time with Todd’s life insurance company, MetLife Inc.
A state medical examiner and a sheriff in Rosebud County, Montana, concluded that Pierce’s death was an accident, caused when he lost control of his silver GMC pickup after passing a car on a two-lane road.
Their findings meant Jane was eligible to collect $224,000 on the accidental death insurance policy that Todd had through his employer, power producer PPL Corp. MetLife, however, refused to pay. The nation’s largest life insurer told Pierce on Dec. 8, 2009, that her husband had killed himself. The policy didn’t cover suicide, the insurer said, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its April issue.
“How dare they suggest such a thing,” says Pierce, 44, a physician assistant in Colstrip, a Montana mining and power production city of 2,346 people.
She says she’s insulted that the man who courageously battled his disease for a decade was accused by an insurance company of abandoning his wife and two sons — one a U.S. Marine, the other a National Guardsman — and giving up on his fight to live.
Pierce argued with MetLife for months. She supplied the insurer with the autopsy report, medical records and a letter from the medical examiner saying the death was accidental. MetLife still said no. Finally, in May 2010, she sued.
In July, a year after Todd’s death, MetLife settled and paid Pierce the full $224,000 due on the policy. The New York- based insurer, as part of the agreement, denied wrongdoing and paid Pierce no interest or penalties for the year during which it held her money.
Life insurers have found myriad ways to delay and deny paying death benefits to families, civil court cases across the U.S. show. Since 2008, federal judges have concluded that some insurers cheated survivors by twisting facts, fabricating excuses and ignoring autopsy findings in withholding death benefits.
Insurers can make erroneous arguments with near impunity when it comes to the 112.8 million life and accidental death policies provided by companies and associations to their employees and members. That’s because of loopholes in a federal law intended to protect worker benefits.