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5 Major Victories in Unlawful Death Lawsuits Against Insurers

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5 major victories
June 26, 2024
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Pignatelli, P.C

Insurance companies are responsible to act in good faith and provide financial security in the event of a policyholder’s death. However, disputes often arise due to claim denials based on technicalities, delayed processing, or outright refusal to pay. This is where unlawful death lawsuits come into the picture. 

Unlawful death lawsuits are crucial in the insurance industry to serve as critical checks on the practices of insurers. This not only aims to rectify injustices faced by families but also to address systemic problems within the insurance sector.

Read on as Pignatelli & Associates P.C. discuss the top 5 cases where families achieved justice through unlawful death lawsuits.

1. Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip (1991)

Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip is a popular U.S. Supreme Court case that underscored the responsibilities of insurers and set significant precedents on punitive damages. Originating from an insurance agent’s embezzlement of premium payments, the case involved a wrongful death claim against Pacific Mutual. It alleges that financial distress and subsequent health issues caused by the agent’s misconduct led to the insured’s death.

The Court’s 1991 decision upheld a punitive damages award, affirming its constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling highlighted the importance of insurer accountability and influenced industry standards on the consequences of mismanaging insurance claims.

2. Estate of Michelle Evette Carter v. American General Life Insurance Company

In the case of the Estate of Michelle Evette Carter versus American General Life Insurance Company, the central issue was the insurer’s denial of a life insurance claim based on alleged non-payment of premiums. The estate argued that administrative errors by the American General contributed to the wrongful denial. Thus, asserting that the policy should have been active at the time of Michelle Carter’s death. 

After legal proceedings, the case concluded with an out-of-court settlement agreement. This provided substantial financial compensation to Carter’s family. It also sheds light on the need for insurers to manage policies and claims with greater accuracy and fairness.

3. Fisher v. Maryland (2012)

The wrongful death claim involving Progressive Insurance and Matt Fisher centered around the tragic death of Fisher’s sister, Kaitlynn, who was killed in a car accident. After the accident, Fisher’s family faced difficulties with Progressive Insurance, which initially denied their underinsured motorist (UIM) claim. This sparked a significant public outcry after Matt Fisher blogged about the insurer’s role in defending the driver responsible for his sister’s death.

The controversy escalated when it was revealed that Progressive had, indeed, contributed to the defense of the other driver during the trial. This civil lawsuit highlighted issues with how insurance claims, particularly those involving wrongful death are handled. These raised questions about the obligations of insurance companies to their policyholders under UIM coverage. 

The court found fault with the other driver, Hope, and awarded the Fisher family $760,000 plus legal fees. Although Progressive’s exact contribution to the settlement was not detailed, it was mentioned to be in the “tens of thousands,” resolving the case after a prolonged legal and public relations battle.

4. Dennis Murphy et al v. PULIC (2013)

Professional Underwriters Liability Insurance Company (PULIC) and Dr. Pawankumar Jain’s issues stemmed from the doctor’s overprescribing of opioids. This allegedly led to the deaths of several patients. 

In 2013, after being notified of the deaths and prior malpractice lawsuits, PULIC canceled Dr. Jain’s insurance but did not defend him when wrongful death claims were made by the families of the deceased patients. This led to Dr. Jain filing for bankruptcy, loss of income and the wrongful death claims became part of his bankruptcy proceedings.

The civil action lawsuit focused on PULIC’s refusal to defend and indemnify Dr. Jain against the lawsuits, which was seen as a breach of their insurance contract. This issue escalated into a lawsuit for insurance bad faith. 

After a decade-long legal struggle, a New Mexico jury awarded a significant verdict of $52 million in punitive damages against PULIC. This case highlighted the responsibilities of insurance companies to defend their insured under policy agreements and marked a significant judicial stance on enforcing these obligations.

5. Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Superior Court (2013)

In this case, the California Court of Appeal dealt with an issue involving a homeowners insurance policy exclusion related to motor vehicles. The case centered around a tragic accident where a child was struck and killed by a truck in his grandparents’ driveway. The legal dispute arose over whether the homeowners insurance should cover the incident, given that the accident involved a vehicle, which typically triggers a motor vehicle exclusion in such policies.

The court ultimately decided that the motor vehicle exclusion in the homeowner’s insurance policy applied, meaning the insurance did not cover the accident. This decision was based on the interpretation that the grandmother’s alleged negligence in supervising the child was not separate from the use of the motor vehicle, as both occurred simultaneously and in the same location. This case highlights the complexities of insurance policy exclusions and their interpretation in wrongful death cases involving vehicles.

Conclusion

The landmark cases discussed illustrate the critical role of legal accountability in the insurance industry, particularly when it comes to handling wrongful death claims.

These settlements not only provided necessary fair compensation to grieving families but also spurred widespread changes in industry practices. Thus, emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct and rigorous oversight.

If you or a loved one has been impacted by a wrongful death and you suspect an insurance provider’s misconduct, it is crucial to seek Rockford, IL legal representation. Pignatelli & Associates P.C., with their extensive experience in wrongful death and personal injury law, is here to help. 

Contact us today to ensure your rights are protected in Rockford, IL and to discuss how we can support you through this challenging time.

Frequently Asked Questions

The most sued medical profession is typically that of surgeons. In particular, those specializing in high-risk areas such as neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, and general surgery. These specialties face a higher rate of medical care malpractice lawsuits due to the complex and critical nature of their procedures. This means that it has a higher potential for complications and adverse outcomes.

The discovery rule for wrongful death cases allows a lawsuit to be filed within two years from the date the death occurred. However, if the death was not immediately discovered to be wrongful, the statute of limitations may be extended. This allows the suit to be filed within two years from the date the wrongful nature of the death was discovered. For more information, you can reach out to our Rockford, IL wrongful death attorney to get a personalized consultation.

The duration of a wrongful death lawsuit in Illinois can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the specific details involved. Generally, such lawsuits can take anywhere from several months to several years to resolve. Factors that affect the timeline include the court’s schedule, the willingness of negligent parties to settle, and the extent of investigation and legal proceedings required. You can schedule a consultation with Pignatelli & Associates P.C. wrongful death lawyer for an accurate resolution timeline.

In Rockford, IL, the beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim are typically the immediate family members of the deceased. This includes the spouse and children of the deceased, who are primary beneficiaries. If there are no surviving spouse or children, the deceased’s parents or siblings may be considered as beneficiaries, depending on the family structure and circumstances.

The highest wrongful death settlement in Illinois was $100 million. This includes coverage for funeral expenses, medical expenses, and non-economic damages such as loss of companionship. It was awarded in 2007 to the family of a 6-year-old boy who was killed at Chicago Midway Airport. The settlement was paid by the responsible party from the city of Chicago and its insurance carrier following an accident where a Southwest Airlines jet slid off the runway and collided with the boy and his family’s car. This case marks one of the largest wrongful death settlements in the state’s history.

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