June 27, 2016

I’m here to talk to you today about an especially sensitive issue: the denial of a life insurance policy when the individual deceased is being accused of committing suicide. You know, during the years I’ve been practicing law, both in the state of Florida and the Tampa Bay area and in Kansas City, Missouri when I started out back in 1995, I learned that being a lawyer requires a certain degree of toughness. But at the same time, you are often put into situations where you are dealing with the exceptionally vulnerable people of America. People who have either been injured or who have suffered because of a major event in their life where legal counsel is now required.

Family Denied Life Insurance on Suspicion of Suicide

One of the most sensitive cases I’ve ever handled involved an individual family who was denied life insurance because of allegations that the individual who died had committed suicide. Now, this isn’t a case I’m working on right now, but these things happen with some regularity. And it’s not so much cases where it’s obvious the individual committed suicide.  it’s not only where they’ve left a note or there’s been some sort of suicidal idealization made prior to the actual death, I’m talking about a situation where an individual dies under what appears to be suspicious circumstances. There is no note, and there’s a dispute between the insurance company and the individual family now who needs the benefits of that life insurance policy, but that claim has been denied because there’s been some interpretation that the cause of injury was intentional.

Understand something: if there were in fact suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one, the medical examiner would have been obligated to perform some kind of autopsy, or what is referred to in the trades as a post. Well, the reality is that medical examiners are only looking at the information that has been provided to them and could be accessible by a physical examination of the body.

At the same time, the medical examiner will often provide an opinion about whether or not they believe this particular injury was intentional. The most common way for this to happen would be if somebody had accidentally took too much medication and then died as a consequence of it. Or, where there was an interaction between medications or maybe an individual who, after an emotional moment, was seen driving quickly in an automobile.

The thing I want you to understand about medical examiners is when they say something is suicide, they’re saying something different than perhaps you or I would interpret as an intentional act. Instead, a medical examiner can call something intentional simply because an individual provided some piece of the puzzle, some conduct or act, that ultimately led to the individual’s death.

The Medical Examiner is Not the Absolute Decision Maker

Most importantly, individual decisions about whether a death is suicide for purposes of a life insurance policy can involve the decisions of the medical examiner, but the findings of the medical examiner are never considered absolute or final. Instead, before an insurance company denies a life insurance policy they must conduct their own investigation. It should include things such as interviewing family members, reviewing the medical examiner’s report, but also gaining access to all of the medical records of the individual who has died so that we can have a complete evaluation as to what the intent of the individual was prior to their death because the issue of intent will ultimately be decided by a jury of the individual’s peers.

If your family has suffered as a result of a denied life insurance policy for any reason, please go to our website at www.CorlessBarfield.com to learn more or give us a call so that we can meet and talk about what options you might have. I look forward to hearing from you.