Legal Roundup: Wife’s Murderer Fights for Life Insurance, Church Seeks Coverage for Sexual Abuse Claims and More

A look at recent court decisions and how their rulings have an impact on risk management and the insurance industry.
By: | July 11, 2019

Can Man Accused of Wife’s Murder Use Her Life Insurance for His Defense?

The Case: In 2015, Colorado man Robert Feldman began to collect life insurance proceeds after his wife Stacy died.

The sole beneficiary of the policy, Feldman received $751,910. But in 2018, he was charged with his wife’s murder and attempted to use $550,000 from the life insurance settlement to pay his attorneys, according to the New York Post.

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Can he use those funds for his own defense?

Scorecard: The so-called “slayer statute” comes into effect here.

It “bars anyone from gaining any financial benefit from another’s estate if they are held criminally responsible for causing the death,” according to the New York Post. A probate court agreed, but the Colorado Supreme Court “ruled that the statute does not apply to a third party — in this case a legal defense team — that is paid for a ‘legally enforceable obligation.’ ”

Takeaway: The Colorado high court is basically saying that Feldman’s right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence usurp the slayer statute.

Hospital Sued for Not Hiring Christian Woman Who Refused Flu Shot

The Case: Yvonne Bair applied for a medical transcriptionist job with Memorial Healthcare in Michigan in 2016.

She argues that the employer rescinded her job offer when they found out her Christian beliefs preclude her from taking a flu shot. Instead, she says, they should have offered religious accommodation.

The Lansing State Journal explains: “She offered to wear a mask during flu season instead of getting a vaccine to ward off the virus — an alternative hospital policy considered acceptable for people who have medical problems with the flu shot, the [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] argued. The hospital did not agree and instead withdrew its job offer.”

Scorecard: A federal judge sided with Bair, ordering Memorial Healthcare to pay her almost $75,000 in back pay and damages. The judge also ordered the company to train employees on religious accommodations.

Takeaway: Employers have an obligation to offer religious accommodations to job applicants and employees.

MGM Sues Zurich Over Las Vegas Mass Shooting Coverages

The Case: In the wake of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting that left 58 people dead, MGM Resorts International is suing Zurich American Insurance Co. claiming the insurer “breached its contract when it failed to pay defense costs for lawsuits that were filed against MGM after the shooting,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

MGM owns the Mandalay Bay where the shooter fired into a crowd from a room on the 32nd floor.

Scorecard: The case has just been filed. MGM spokesman Brian Ahern told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “This dispute does not relate to coverage for a potential settlement and is limited to Zurich’s obligation to pay defense costs in this matter.” Zurich did not return a request for comment, according to the newspaper.

Takeaway: The case likely hinges on the limitations and exclusions in the policy MGM and Zurich agreed upon. It’ll be up to MGM to show where, exactly, Zurich violated terms of the deal.

New York Archdiocese Sues Insurers Over Expected Denials of Sexual Abuse Claims 

The Case: In a preemptive move, the New York Archdiocese is suing insurance companies over expected sexual abuse claims they think will come in later this year.

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New York state recently passed a law allowing abuse victims a one-year window to file civil suits long after the statute of limitations has passed.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “The complaint names 31 insurance firms that provided the archdiocese with liability insurance over the years and says many intend to deny or limit coverage for lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. The archdiocese said it is entitled to all benefits provided by the insurance policies, including the coverage of legal fees during litigation.”

Scorecard: The insurance companies will argue that sexual abuse by insureds isn’t covered, while the Archdiocese will say they’re simply holding the insurance companies to the policies they issued.

Takeaway: This isn’t stopping in New York. Victims of all kinds of abuse have been advocating for change and looking for reconciliation despite statute of limitations laws.

New Jersey passed a similar law that goes into effect in December 2019 and offers a two-year window to file action despite the statute of limitations. Expect insurers to be caught in the middle of that case too. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]