Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Lavastone Capital LLC (Lavastone) entered into an agreement with Coventry First LLC (Coventry) to purchase “life settlements” – life-insurance policies sold on the secondary market. One was that of Beverly Berland. Lincoln Financial (Lincoln) issued the policy to Berland in 2006. But Berland did not act alone in acquiring it. A few months before, she approached a business called “Simba.” As Simba pitched it, the transaction allowed clients to “create dollars today by using a paper asset, (a life insurance policy not yet issued from a major insurance carrier insuring your life)” by selling it on the secondary market. Clients did not need to put up any money upfront. Instead, they got nonrecourse loans to finance the transactions, which allowed them to make all necessary payments without tapping into personal funds. The only collateral for the loan was the life-insurance policy itself. Berland agreed to participate in several transactions with Simba, profiting greatly. Lavastone kept the policy in force, paying all relevant premiums to Lincoln Financial. Upon Berland’s death more than seven years later, Lincoln paid Lavastone $5,041,032.06 in death benefits under the policy. In December 2018, Berland’s estate filed a complaint against Lavastone in the District Court, seeking to recover the death benefits that Lavastone received under 18 Del C. 2704(b). In 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In 2021, the District Court certified the three questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: (1) a death-benefit payment made on a policy that is void ab initio under 18 Del. C. 2704(a) and PHL Variable Insurance Co. v. Price Dawe 2006 Insurance Trust was made “under [a] contract” within the meaning of 18 Del. C. 2704(b); (2) so long as the use of nonrecourse funding did not allow the insured or his or her trust to obtain the policy “without actually paying the premiums” and the insured or his or her trust procured or effected the policy in good faith, for a lawful insurance purpose, and not as a cover for a wagering contract; and (3) an estate could profit under 18 Del. C. 2704(b) where the policy was procured in part by fraud on the part of the decedent and the decedent profited from the previous sale of the policy, if the recipient of the policy benefits cannot establish that it was a victim of the fraud. View "Lavastone Capital LLC v. Estate of Beverly E. Berland" on Justia Law

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The underlying controversy entailed will-, estate-, and insurance-contest litigation commenced in 2008 by Appellee Jeffrey Stover in his capacity as the attorney for Appellant, David Clark, who was the testator’s brother. In 2010, Appellee Stover also lodged a second complaint on behalf of Monica Clark, the testator’s mother, now deceased. After the claims in both actions failed, Appellant and Mrs. Clark filed this legal malpractice action in 2015, advancing claims of professional negligence and breach of contract against Appellee Stover and his law firm. Upon Appellees’ motion, the common pleas court awarded summary judgment in their favor, finding, as relevant here, that Appellant and Mrs. Clark were aware of the alleged negligence and the asserted breach more than four years before they lodged the malpractice action. Since the applicable statutes of limitations provided for commencement of a negligence action within two years after accrual, and a contractual action within four years after breach, the county court found the claims to be untimely. The Superior Court affirmed on the "occurrence rule." The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address the "continuous representation rule," under which the applicable statutes of limitations would not run until the date on which Appellees' representation was terminated. Appellant maintains that this rule should be adopted in Pennsylvania to permit statutes of limitations for causes of action sounding in legal malpractice to be “tolled until the attorney’s ongoing representation is complete.” While the Supreme Court recognized "there are mixed policy considerations involved, as relating to statutes of limitations relegated to the legislative province, we conclude that the appropriate balance should be determined by the General Assembly." The Superior Court judgment was affirmed. View "Clark (Est of M. Clark) v. Stover, et al" on Justia Law

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After a mother requested life-insurance proceeds for the benefit of her two minor children after the death of the children’s father, the insurance company requested that she provide the appropriate guardianship documentation. The insurance company received the order appointing the mother guardian and providing directions for the issuance of funds. But the insurance company did not issue the funds as instructed by the order, and the mother misappropriated the funds. A guardian ad litem was then appointed by the chancery court for the minor children and eventually sued the insurance company in the Mississippi Circuit Court for negligence and breach of contract. The circuit court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that because the insurance company was not a party to the guardianship proceeding in chancery court, the insurance company was not subject to liability for an alleged violation of the guardianship order. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the insurance company’s liability and that summary judgment should not have been granted. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits. View "Samson v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Amanda Meleski was injured when Albert Hotlen ran a red light and collided with her vehicle. Unfortunately, Hotlen was deceased at the time of the lawsuit, and he had no estate from which she could recover. However, Hotlen had purchased a $100,000 insurance policy from Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) covering the accident. Meleski brought her action pursuant to Probate Code sections 550 through 555, which allowed her to serve her complaint on Allstate and recover damages from the Allstate policy, but limited her recovery of damages to the policy limits. Meleski attempted to settle the matter before going to trial by making an offer pursuant to section 998 for $99,999. The offer was not accepted, and at trial a jury awarded her $180,613.86. Because the offer was rejected and Meleski was awarded judgment in excess of her offer to compromise, she expected to recover her costs of suit, the postoffer costs of the services of expert witnesses, and other litigation costs. Meleski argued on appeal that she should have been able to recover costs in excess of the policy limits from Allstate, since it was Allstate that had refused to accept a reasonable settlement offer prior to trial. The trial court disagreed, and Meleski filed this appeal, arguing Allstate was a party within the meaning of section 998 for purposes of recovering costs, and that such costs were recoverable from the insurer despite the limitation on the recovery of “damages” found in Probate Code sections 550 through 555. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed judgment: "Even though the decedent’s estate is the named defendant in actions under Probate Code sections 550 through 555, this is a legal fiction. The insurance company accepts service of process, hires and pays for counsel to defend the action, makes all decisions regarding settlement of the litigation, is responsible for paying the judgment in favor of the plaintiff if such judgment is rendered, and makes the decision whether or not to appeal an adverse judgment. There is no actual person or entity other than the insurance company to do any of this. This is a reality we will not ignore. Moreover, we find it manifestly unfair that section 998 could be employed by Allstate to recover costs from the plaintiff (which costs it would have no obligation to pay to the estate), but Allstate would have no corresponding responsibility to pay costs merely because it is not a named party." View "Meleski v. Estate of Hotlen" on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law

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Nine days after the jury returned its verdict, but before the trial court reduced that verdict to a written and signed judgment, Michael Casper died. Consequently, the defendant, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (“GTL”), moved to substantially reduce the verdict, arguing that the survival statute barred certain damages under the policy that insured Casper. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted GTL’s petition to review the court of appeals’ decision, and concluded that the survival statute did not limit the jury’s verdict in favor of Casper. The Court also concluded that an award of attorney fees and costs under section 10-3-1116(1) was a component of the “actual damages” of a successful claim under that section. Finally, the Court concluded that although the survival statute did not limit the damages awarded by the jury, the trial court abused its discretion by entering a final judgment on October 30, 2014, nunc pro tunc to July 15, 2014. View "Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co. v. Estate of Casper" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court entering summary judgment in favor of Curtis Frye, Daryl Frye, and the Estate of Carroll Frye (collectively, the Estate) on the Estate’s action seeking enforcement of a property insurance contract for the loss of a dwelling by fire. The Court held that the trial court erred by interpreting Carroll’s insurance contract with MMG Insurance Company as providing coverage to the Estate because when the fire occurred, several weeks after Carroll’s death, none of the parties was both insured by MMG and in possession of an insurable interest. Therefore, Me. Rev. Stat. 24-A, 2406 preluded enforcement of the policy as to the dwelling as a matter of law. The Court remanded the case for entry of a summary judgment in favor of MMG. View "Estate of Carroll G. Frye v. MMG Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court entering summary judgment in favor of Curtis Frye, Daryl Frye, and the Estate of Carroll Frye (collectively, the Estate) on the Estate’s action seeking enforcement of a property insurance contract for the loss of a dwelling by fire. The Court held that the trial court erred by interpreting Carroll’s insurance contract with MMG Insurance Company as providing coverage to the Estate because when the fire occurred, several weeks after Carroll’s death, none of the parties was both insured by MMG and in possession of an insurable interest. Therefore, Me. Rev. Stat. 24-A, 2406 preluded enforcement of the policy as to the dwelling as a matter of law. The Court remanded the case for entry of a summary judgment in favor of MMG. View "Estate of Carroll G. Frye v. MMG Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Husband Patrick Steiner was an active duty military service member and had a group life insurance policy issued under the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (the SGLIA). As part of a status-only dissolution judgment, Husband and Alicja Soczewko Steiner (Wife), stipulated to an order requiring Husband to maintain Wife as the beneficiary of all of Husband's current active duty survivor and/or death benefits pending further court order. Notwithstanding the stipulated order, Husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to Husband's sister, Mary Furman, who received the policy proceeds upon Husband's death. The court subsequently found applicable federal law preempted the stipulated order and Furman was entitled to the policy proceeds. Wife appealed, contending federal law did not preempt the stipulated order or, alternatively, the fraud exception to federal preemption applies. The Court of Appeal concluded to the contrary on both points and affirmed the order. View "Marriage of Steiner" on Justia Law