Life Insurance Exclusion for Suicide
Many life insurance policies limit the proceeds payable if the insured died by suicide within two years of the policy's issue. In many of these cases, the cause of death is contested. The family will argue that the death was an accident and the insurance company will argue that the death was a suicide.
In Florida, the courts recognize a presumption against suicide. However, that presumption can be overcome when either party introduces evidence of suicide. Once credible evidence of suicide is presented, the suicide disappears, and the case must be decided on all the evidence.
If the case proceeds to trial, the facts are weighed by the trier of fact, who may make the determination that the insured committed suicide by considering circumstantial as well as direct evidence. The State of Florida, along with a majority of jurisdictions, requires proof of suicide to be established by a preponderance of the evidence.
Attorney for Life Insurance Exclusion Disputes in Sarasota, FL
If you are a beneficiary of a claim and the insurance company has denied the claim because it is alleged that the insured committed suicide, then contact an experienced insurance law attorney who can help you show evidence that the death of accidental.
Michael Germain is experienced with handling life insurance disputes and resolving claims between competing beneficiaries in Sarasota, FL, and the surrounding areas. Let us put our experience to work for you.
Call (941) 316-0333 today.
Circumstantial Evidence of Suicide vs. Accidental Death
In order to preclude recovery of life insurance benefits under a suicide exclusion clause, the insurer must prove that the insured acted with the intent to take his own life. For example, in Gulf Life Ins. Co. v. Nash, 97 So.2d 4 (Fla. 1957), the insured had never examined the gun with which he fatally injured himself. The evidence showed he was in good humor and joking with friends when he aimed a gun at his chest and mortally wounded himself. After that, he immediately cried, "My God, the gun was loaded ... I am shot. Call a doctor." Based on these facts, the supreme court determined that sufficient evidence was presented to support the lower court's determination that Nash had not committed suicide.
In other cases, the evidence shows that the death should be considered suicide resulting in a denial of the life insurance claim. For instance, in Koger v. Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co., 152 W.Va. 274, 163 S.E.2d 672 (1968), the court found the beneficiary under policy covering death resulting from accidental bodily injury could not recover under evidence that immediately before the shooting, the insured had suggested playing Russian Roulette and had taken certain steps conforming to that design and died as a result of gunshot wound in the head.
In Thompson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 84 Ga.App. 214, 66 S.E.2d 119 (1951), the court found that a Russian Roulette death no less intentional than had gun been fully loaded and cannot be the result of an accident, but rather it should be presumed that the participant intended that he should be killed or injured should fate stop cartridge from spinning the cylinder in the firing position.
Evidence of External Violent Means
When the evidence is circumstantial and shows an unexplained death brought about by external, violent means, that is sufficiently under Florida law to make a prima facie case of an accidental death. The historical rule announced by the Supreme Court of Florida in New York Life Ins. Co. v. Satcher, 152 Fla. 411, 12 So.2d 108, provided that where the insurer pleads suicide as a defense in such a case the burden is on the defendant insurer to show by clear and convincing proof that the death was by suicide, after a plaintiff has made a prima facie case of accidental death, and after the presumption against self-destruction has been dispelled by presentation of some evidence from which suicide could be inferred.
In Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York v. Johnson, 122 Fla. 567, 166 So. 442 (Fla. 1934), the Florida Supreme Court announced the rule that when suicide is relied on in defense of the recovery of double indemnity for accidental death, the burden is first on the plaintiff to prove that death came about by accidental means, and that if and when that is done, by a showing that death was by external and violent means, the plaintiff will have made out a prima facie case, and that the burden then shifts to the defendant to establish that the death was by suicide.
The Florida Supreme Court in Johnson considered it applicable and invoked the general rule that where circumstantial evidence is relied upon to prove that the death was by suicide, it must not only be consistent with suicide but must be such as is inconsistent with every reasonable hypothesis of accidental death.
The Johnson Court also held that where evidence in support of death by accidental means or suicide is so nearly balanced as to leave the question in doubt, the presumption against suicide will tip the scales in favor of accidental death.
Attorney for the Denial of a Life Insurance Claim in Florida
We can represent the beneficiary under a life insurance policy to recover the full benefits under the policy after an accidental death. If an insurance company tries to deny the claim because the insurer alleged committed suicide, we can help you fight to make the insurance company pay the claim after an accidental death.
We know the tactics used by the insurance company. Let us put our experience to work for you. Whether your life insurance claim was denied because of suicide or competing beneficiaries are making a claim, Michael Germain can help you fight for justice.
Call (941) 316-0333 today.
This article was last updated on Friday, January 12, 2018.
Meet Our Attorney
Michael B. Germain
Michael B. Germain is the founder of the Germain Law Group. For over a decade, Michael has been involved in litigating insurance claims and complex commercial matters.