Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court allowing Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in this lawsuit brought against the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Nationwide Life Insurance Company in this dispute over the remainder of an annuity issued by Nationwide, holding that the superior court erred.Robert Hamel purchased the annuity at issue to help Joan Hamel, his wife, become eligible for Medicaid benefits, which was necessary to pay for her long-term care. Robert named the Commonwealth as the primary remainder beneficiary to the "extent benefits paid" and Plaintiff, his daughter, as the contingent remainder beneficiary. Before the end of the annuity period Robert died. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging that she was entitled to the remainder. The superior court entered summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and denied the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and reversed the judgment below, holding that, upon Robert's passing, the remainder of the annuity properly belonged to the Commonwealth up to the amount it paid for Joan's care. View "Dermody v. Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (“Allianz”) in Plaintiff’s capacity as a trustee of the Zupnick Family Trust 2008A (“Trust”). Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that an Allianz life insurance policy (“Zupnick Policy”), which Plaintiff contends is owned by the Trust, remains in effect. The district court concluded that the Trust was not the actual owner of the Zupnick Policy under New York law because any assignment of the policy to the Trust failed to comply with the Zupnick Policy’s provision that assignment would be effective upon Allianz’s receipt of written notice of the assignment. The district court held that the Trust lacked contractual standing to sue on the Zupnick Policy, and granted Allianz’s motion to dismiss. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that failure to comply with the provisions of a life insurance policy requiring written notice of assignment cannot, under New York law, render an assignment ineffective.   The Second Circuit certified the question to the Court of Appeals because the argument turns on a question of state law for which no controlling decision of the New York Court of Appeals exists. The court certified the following question: Where a life insurance policy provides that “assignment will be effective upon Notice” in writing to the insurer, does the failure to provide such written notice void the assignment so that the purported assignee does not have contractual standing to bring a claim under the Policy? View "Brettler v. Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America" on Justia Law

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This action was brought by plaintiff Nancy Holm, administratrix of the estate of her husband, Christopher Friedauer, who died in 2015 after falling at his workplace, Holmdel Nurseries, LLC. As a longtime employee of the family-owned business, Christopher had been covered by workers’ compensation insurance, but he was no longer covered after he became a member of the LLC in 2012. Plaintiff claimed that defendant Daniel Purdy, who served as the insurance broker for Holmdel Nurseries from 2002 to 2015, failed to provide to the LLC the notice mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, and that Christopher was unaware that he no longer had workers’ compensation coverage in his new role as an LLC member. She alleged that as a result of defendant’s negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, Friedauer’s dependents were deprived of a workers’ compensation death benefit to which they would have been entitled under N.J.S.A. 34:15-13 had he been covered by workers’ compensation insurance at the time of his death. Defendant asserted that Friedauer’s father, Robert Friedauer, the LLC’s managing member for insurance issues, instructed defendant in 2002 that Holmdel Nurseries did not want to purchase workers’ compensation coverage for its LLC members because of the cost of that coverage. At the close of a jury trial, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4:37-2(b) and his motion for judgment at trial pursuant to Rule 4:40-1. Informed by the New Jersey Legislature’s expression of public policy in N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, the New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that defendant had a duty to advise the LLC members, at the time of the workers’ compensation policy’s purchase or renewal, that an LLC member actively performing services on the LLC’s behalf was eligible for workers’ compensation coverage, but that the LLC must elect to purchase such coverage in order to obtain it. Consistent with N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, however, the Supreme Court held that defendant could not be held liable for breach of that duty unless the damages alleged were caused by defendant’s willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission. The Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s assessment of the evidence presented by plaintiff on the question of proximate cause. Accordingly, the Court concurred that the trial court erred when it granted defendant’s motion to dismiss and his motion for judgment at trial, and affirmed as modified the Appellate Division’s judgment. The case was thus remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Holm v. Purdy" on Justia Law

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Wade Chapman (“Wade”) and his six siblings (“Siblings”) were the children of Wilford (“Bill”) Chapman. Bill had a life insurance policy for $7,000,000 that named the Chapman Family Multiple Power Liquidity Trust (“Trust”) as its owner. Wade, along with Siblings, were named as the Trust’s beneficiaries. Wade was also named a trustee. After Bill passed away, Wade learned that he was listed as the sole beneficiary of the life insurance policy and retained the entirety of the death benefit for himself. Siblings sued Wade for breach of fiduciary duty, among other causes of action, arguing that the policy was a Trust asset, and its proceeds should have been distributed equally among them. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Siblings. It also awarded prejudgment interest against Wade under Idaho Code section 28-22-104 and attorney fees under Idaho Code section 15-8-201, a provision of the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (“TEDRA”). The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Siblings, affirmed in part and reversed in part the award of prejudgment interest, and reversed the grant of attorney fees to Siblings under TEDRA. View "Vouk v. Chapman" on Justia Law

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This case concerns a $225,000 life insurance policy issued on the life of C.S. When C.S. died in 2018, his estate (“Estate”) made a claim for the policy proceeds. His former employer, Kansas City Chrome Shop (“KCCS”), together with KCCS’s president, Dora Clark-Wall, made a competing claim. After the district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the Estate, Clark-Wall brought equitable claims in her personal capacity. Following a bench trial, the district court found that Clark-Wall was entitled to an equitable portion of the proceeds totaling $55,253.28 and that the Estate was entitled to the remaining $169,746.72. KCCS and Clark-Wall appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Clark-Wall’s continued payments and renewal of the policy were essentially a gamble on C.S’s life—a benefit she hoped to reap if he died before she did. The law does not view such conduct favorably. The court, therefore, failed to see how the principles of fairness and justice demand that Clark-Wall is awarded accumulated interest on her payments. Accordingly, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s equitable award to Clark-Wall. View "The Estate of Charles D. Smith v. Kansas City Chrome Shop, Inc." on Justia Law

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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