Not Your Average Claim

July 27, 2012

Working in the insurance industry, you seem some truly whacky, counter-intuitive claims, cases, and court rulings. RoughNotesmagazine and Insurance Journal constantly publish claims and court settlements far from norm. Yesterday, an article popped up on Insurance Journal’s website about a man who killed his wife, but was awarded the money from her life insurance policy. In the insurance industry, you never know what comes next! In the June 2012 issue of RoughNotes Magazine, they published a story about an insurance claim involving two hunters hoisting a portable toilet onto a hunting stand in a tree. One hunter fell from the stand and a lawsuit followed.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant Dale Larkin the life insurance payout he was to receive when his wife passed away. The {only} problem: he killed her! His wife, Teresa Larkin, was found in her bathtub in 2003, but Dale Larkin was never suspected or convicted of taking her life. Tia Gentry, Teresa Larkin’s daughter, filed a lawsuit to prevent Dale Larkin from collecting the entirety of proceeds of her mother’s life insurance policy, because she suspected he killed her mother. In 2006, they reached a settlement in which the proceeds were split $500,000 to Gentry and $203,000 to Larkin. In 2009, Larkin’s body was exhumed per the suspicions of the Johnson City Police Department. They found she suffered numerous injuries and broken bones before she drowned. In February 2011, Larkin was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.

In the wake of the sentence, Gentry filed a lawsuit against Larkin to collect on the life insurance policies, siting a Tennessee law “slayer’s statute”. This law keeps people convicted of murder from inheriting property from the victim. She alleged that Larkin had swayed her to believe he was innocent in her mother’s death. The appellate court ruled that Gentry had entered into a legally binding agreement with Larkin, and regardless of being guilty or innocent, he was allowed to collect on the life policy. The court was visibly reluctant to make such a ruling, with the appellate judge manifesting that he was “this court is not happy with the results of our decision”.

In August 2007, two hunters were hoisting a portable toilet onto a hunting stand approximately 20 feet in the air. One was in the stand and the other was on the ground, using his truck to hoist the toilet in a pulley system. During the process, the hunter in the stand, Martin Hays, fell from the stand and sustained moderate injuries. He filed a suit against the driver, James Buckbee, for motor vehicle negligence and excessive use of force in hoisting the toilet. Buckbee’s insurance company, Farm Bureau, filed an action with the court to determine its obligation to defend Buckbee in the case. Farm Bureau was relinquished of the obligation to defend Buckbee under the exclusion stating that claims pertaining to bodily injury due to the use of a motor vehicle were not covered under his homeowner's policy {note: When a motor vehicle is involved in a bodily injury case, the auto policy would be expected to pick up the bodily injury claim, because bodily injury due to a motor vehicle is excluded on the standard homeowner policy}. Hays appealed the court’s decision.

Hays stated in the appeal that Buckbee’s motor vehicle was being used as an external power source {When a motor vehicle is used as an external power source, the only way to power something, property damage and bodily injury is not excluded on a standard homeowner policy} thus it was the insurer’s responsibility to cover the damages. Hays originally claimed his injuries were a result of the use of Buckbee’s truck as motor vehicle, thus Hays could not reverse his claim that Buckbee’s truck was not in use at the time. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision that relinquished liability from Buckbee’s insurer.

Articles Courtesy of RoughNotes and Insurance Journal!

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