Articles Posted in Life Insurance

Kantor & Kantor has established a regular, live, and interactive Zoom conversation to discuss generally and answer questions from the public about long-term disability, health insurance, pensions, life insurance, casualty (homeowners), and more.  BenefitsChat will be live on Wednesday evenings from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm Pacific Time.

Host Andrew Kantor, his fellow Kantor & Kantor attorneys, and select guests will explain and discuss everything from “big picture” concepts, such as the distinctions between different ways of obtaining insurance, to case-specific concepts designed to help individuals protect their rights.

While there is always a demand for legal information, current events have created an unparalleled need for as many real, live, helping hands as are available to be lent—even if the hand can only be safely lent via webcam. This forum will give people the chance not only to learn from our attorneys and each other; but to do so within the safety and comfort of a like-minded and supportive group of individuals and their families.

Over the years, courts deciding ERISA cases involving accidental death due to autoerotic asphyxiation have issued mixed opinions as to whether benefits should be payable. In a recent decision, Wightman v. Securian Life Ins. Co., No. CV 18-11285-DJC, 2020 WL 1703772 (D. Mass. Apr. 8, 2020), a district court upheld the denial of accidental death benefits due to the insured’s death caused by autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.

Plaintiff Anne Wightman sued Securian Life Insurance Company after it denied the accidental death benefit claim filed as a result of her husband, Dr. Colin Wightman. This policy expressly excluded death when caused directly or indirectly by, among other things, “suicide or attempted suicide, whether sane or insane . . . intentionally self-inflicted injury or attempt at self-inflected injury, while sane insane” and “bodily or mental infirmity, illness or disease.”

Dr. Wightman had been in therapy since the late 1990’s for his interest in sexual asphyxia. Dr. Wightman told his wife about his interest in “sex-related strangulation” in 2007 after he engaged in a sexual encounter that led to a complaint to the police, and Dr. Wightman losing his job. Dr. Wightman sought mental health treatment as a result from June 2007 through April 2010. He also was prescribed medication to help treat his addiction, which he took through 2015. The court noted that records from his mental health treatment highlighted Dr. Wightman as having “high risk sexual behavior [that] has led to possibility of charges for sexual assault.”

The correct response is, “maybe, or maybe not, depending on the facts, and the state in which you reside.”

Insurance policies very often have time limits on the submission of a claim for benefits. In some states, those deadlines are VERY strictly construed, and once the deadline has passed, it does become “too late” to make a claim.

However, more than half of the states apply some form of an insurance rule called the “notice prejudice” doctrine.  Simply put, even if an insurance policy imposes a time limit for the submission of the claim, if certain rules are met, a claim can be submitted after the time limit if the late notice does not “prejudice” the insurance company’s ability to investigate the claim.  However, that is just a basic summary of the rule.  In the states that apply some form of the notice prejudice doctrine, its application differs from state to state.  In some states, the insured making the late claim must demonstrate a “good reason” for making a late claim.  In others, the burden falls on the insured to prove that no prejudice would be suffered by the insurance company because of the late claim submission.

Elizabeth Hopkins and Michelle Roberts, Kantor & Kantor Partners, recently obtained a favorable decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, concluding that a widow could hold her deceased husband’s employer accountable for its actions in preventing her from obtaining the life insurance under her husband’s ERISA-covered benefit plan.

Specifically, although the employer, National Counseling Group (NCG), collected premiums for the life insurance coverage from the husband until the time of his death, it never told him that when he began to work part-time, he became ineligible under the plan but could convert his coverage to an individual policy.  After he died, NCG told his widow not to pursue her claim against the insurance company because it was going to pay her the full benefits, even though it later refused to do so.  Despite these misdeeds, the trial judge dismissed the case after concluding that NCG owed no fiduciary duty to either the decedent or his widow.

Kantor & Kantor attorneys, who are ERISA litigation specialists, took over the case for the appeal.  They argued that the trial judge’s ruling was wrong because NCG was named as a fiduciary and plan administrator in the governing documents and, as such, NCG was required to give accurate and complete information to both the decedent and to his widow.

As you probably know, insurance companies are masters of fine print. You may think you have coverage for a condition or injury under your insurance, but when the worst happens, you may find out that you weren’t actually covered after all. Or, you may be covered, but you didn’t have as much coverage as you thought you did.

You can’t always protect yourselves from these gotchas. Many of us have insurance through our employers, and we don’t have power to negotiate the terms of those policies.

However, you can still avoid nasty surprises by reading the fine print in advance. Medical insurance is the type of insurance most people are familiar with, and while you don’t need to know your entire insurance policy by heart, you should know the basics of calculating your benefits – i.e., what your deductible, coinsurance, copay, and out-of-pocket maximums are.

Maybe you’ve heard (or experienced) the tragic story of someone becoming ill, forgetting or being unable to pay their life insurance premium, only to see the policy lapse at the time it is needed most. It’s more common than you may realize, and at our law firm we see it quite often. It is terribly unfortunate.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that there is law in California that may come to the rescue. That law is known as the “notice prejudice” rule. The rule emanates from a judicially created doctrine dating back to at least 1963, when the California Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1963) 60 Cal.2d 303, 305. The rule is simple: it prohibits insurers from denying insurance benefits on the ground that the insured presented an untimely claim, unless the insurer can show it was prejudiced by the delay. It is expressly designed to prohibit insurance companies from disclaiming liability based on a “technical escape hatch,” and to protect insureds from the unfair forfeiture of their benefits on procedural grounds. (The rule is also widespread; the majority of states impose a similar requirement on insurers.)

So, how does the rule apply to lapsed life insurance? Well, it is important to state at the outset that it only applies in certain circumstances. One of the most common examples is when the life insurance policy also includes a provision that premium payments will be excused or “waived” in the event the insured becomes disabled. This is usually referred to as a “life waiver of premium provision” (LWOP) or something similar. Many policies have such provisions but policyholders just aren’t aware of the benefit.

At Kantor & Kantor, we see the same scenario over and over again.   An individual submits a claim to a life insurance company, seeking to receive the life insurance benefits due to them resulting from the death of a loved one.   However, instead of a check, the individual receives a letter from the insurance company telling them why they WON’T be receiving any benefits.     The beneficiary is shocked, but feels helpless.  

The insurance company must know what they are doing, RIGHT?   

The insurance company wouldn’t negligently or intentionally fail to pay which should be paid, RIGHT?

Okay, that headline is a simplification, and maybe even an overstatement, but that’s the attitude of insurance companies, and even courts, when looking at evidence related to life, health and disability claims.

At Kantor & Kantor, one of the most common complaints we hear from prospective clients goes something like this: “When I called the insurance company, they told me to do xxxxxx. So I did xxxxxx. But then they sent me a letter denying my claim/cancelling my coverage because I didn’t do yyyyyy, as the policy required.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much we want to believe the prospective client, our answer is almost always the same: you have to understand, and act as though someone will one day soon say to you,  “if you can’t prove it, it never happened.”

When you think of what lawyers do for a living, the first thing you probably think of is arguing over a case in front of a judge.

You may be surprised to learn, then, that in the federal courts this staple of practicing law seems to be on the way out. The federal district courts – the trial courts of the federal system – are increasingly holding fewer and fewer oral arguments. Some district courts even have a standing default rule that they won’t hear oral argument on a motion unless the presiding judge explicitly asks for it.

This trend is even more accentuated in the federal circuit courts – the appellate courts of the federal system. While the Supreme Court of the United States holds oral argument in almost all of its cases, the circuit courts of appeal do not.

As you know, churches occupy a special place in the law. For example, the First Amendment bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and churches, indeed almost all religioous institutions, get special tax treatment from the IRS.

However, you may not know that this distinction can also affect your employee benefits. Almost all employee benefits are governed by a federal law called ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974). This law provides various protections, including imposing a fiduciary duty on your employer to act in your best interests in administering your benefits.

However, if you are a beneficiary of an employee benefit plan established by a church (or other religious organization), your benefits are not governed by ERISA, because ERISA has an exemption for “church plans.” (There is also an exemption for government plans.) As a result, you may lose protections under ERISA if you are a church employee.

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