It was widely reported yesterday that the daughter of actor Heath Ledger had to file suit against her father’s life insurance carrier, ReliaStar Life Insurance Company, after the company refused to pay the life insurance claim. Apparently, the insurance company is claiming that Mr. Ledger’s death was suicide despite all formal investigations so far finding the contrary.
But the Ledger family is not alone in their fight with insurance companies. In the last year, several celebrities have been involved with litigation relating to questionable decisions by insurance companies.
For example, Robert De Niro was scheduled to appear in a film. De Niro delayed filming, and the Fireman’s Fund, the insurance carrier on the film, paid the studio $1.8 million to cover lost costs. Fireman’s Fund then sued De Niro for causing the delay. Why did De Niro have to delay the film? Because he was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few days before filming was to begin. While most of us would understand De Niro’s delay under the circumstances, it apparently wasn’t good enough for Fireman’s Fund.
Also late last year, talk show host Larry King sued his insurance brokers, accusing them of conning him out of $15 million in life insurance policies.
And in early 2007, casino mogul Steve Wynn sued Lloyd’s of London alleging that it failed to properly pay his claim for lost value to a Picasso painting after it was damaged when Wynn accidentally poked a hole in the picture with his elbow.
Sadly, these types of suits are very representative of the type of treatment that our clients receive from some insurance carriers. For example, carriers have become more aggressive in denying claims and in questioning whether treatment prescribed by doctors was necessary. I now find myself filing more lawsuits on claims that would have been easily resolved by cooperation between adjusters and my firm several years ago.
And it seems that sometime the insurance companies are just asking for it. I recently settled a claim where the offer was increased almost fifteen-fold just by filing suit. The original adjuster was just unreasonable, but filing the suit brought in a new attorney and new adjuster that were both willing to fairly evaluate the case. The quick negotiations with the new adjuster and attorney were ample evidence that the hard-line from the original adjuster was just wrong.
And that’s not to say all insurance companies and adjusters are bad. There are many that I deal with regularly and get along with. In most cases, we’re able to agree on the values of a case, and if we have a genuine disagreement, we’re all comfortable allowing the judicial process to settle that dispute.
But those are fewer and fewer these days. More and more insurance companies are forcing us to resort to the same paths that these celebrities have chosen.