As most of you who read my articles know, I am no fan of insurance companies. My usual targets are liability insurance carriers who delay and deny, squeeze the dignity and fight out of the plaintiff and try to get him/her to settle as cheaply as they can. In fact, these kinds of tactics are what lead me into the lawsuit funding business. My lawsuit funding service should be used to relieve financial pressure to settle too early, for too little, because of financial desperation caused by an insurance company’s unreasonable delays in paying what they should. Without lawsuit financial assistance and a splendid plaintiff attorney trial bar, insurance companies would probably get away with as much as their lack of compassion and scruples would allow.
Apparently, this kind of behavior is not unique to liability insurance companies. No, life insurance companies, like Hartford, (which, not coincidentally, is a liability and accident carrier, as well) are getting into the act. Here’s a story out of Eugene, Oregon. Hartford is refusing to pay the wife of a man who died in a freak kitchen accident because, the company says, the man had been drinking that day. As a result, the unfortunate widow must sue Hartford for the benefits that she and her husband paid premiums for for years. Her lawsuit seeks $1.3 million in wrongfully withheld benefits.
The death resulted when the husband, home alone and drinking throughout the day, dropped a glass cake cover. The cover shattered, a glass edge severed an artery in his foot, and he bled to death. He was 68 years old. An autopsy was done and the coroner opined that death resulted from a single cause: "Sharp force foot injury that caused [subject] to bleed out." The coroner made an incidental finding that the victim’s alcohol level was .08 percent.
Hartford denied two claims, one for the wife’s death benefit and the other for the couple’s 19 year old daughter’s school expense benefit under the policy. Why the denial, you ask? Because, according to Hartford, a blood alcohol level over .08 is above the level to be guilty of the offense of drunk driving in Oregon. This, according to Hartford, made him "legally intoxicated" and, therefore, his death did not result from "bodily injury resulting directly and independently of all other causes from an accident". WHAT???????!!!!!!!!
Even if the husband was intoxicated at the time of the accident, it was not determined to be a causal factor in his death. Clearly, he accidentally dropped the cake cover; it is rank speculation that he dropped it because he was drunk! And, besides, the standard that Hartford wants to apply is the one that applies to drinking and driving, not drinking and walking around in your own home. The purpose for creating the standard is to prevent the operation of a dangerous motor vehicle in a state of inebriation. In contrast, the widow’s attorney, Bill Gary, correctly points out that there is no law in Oregon that states that it is unlawful to be intoxicated in one’s own home.
Hartford: NO SUCH "LEGAL INTOXICATION" STANDARD EXISTS UNDER OREGON LAW! You happily took this couple’s premiums for years. They paid them because they expected that, when or if the time came, you would honor your policy’s promise to pay the benefits that they paid premiums for. Your website boasts recognition for customer service with three Dalbar awards in 2009. You boast that these awards "highlight the company’s focus and dedication to delivering a consistently high-level of customer service". So, consistent with these claims of superlative service, forget for a second that you are an insurance company (you know, those guys who love taking your money in premiums, but will use every deceitful trick to avoid paying them back out in benefits); do the right thing and pay these claims as soon as possible.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.