Trief & Olk Victorious at Trial Challenging Denial of Life Insurance Proceeds, Recovers $3 Million

In a case tried before Justice Francis A. Kahn III of the Supreme Court of New York, Bronx County, Trief & Olk successfully prevailed in claims brought against William Penn Life Insurance Co., recovering $3 million (plus interest) in insurance proceeds owed on the life of Jhonny Jaar.  You can read the decision here.

Mr. Jaar was a key executive in Global Energy Efficiency Holdings, Inc. (“Global Energy”).  Due to Mr. Jaar’s important role in the company, Global Energy purchased “key man” insurance on Mr. Jaar’s life in two policies (one issued in 2012 and the other in 2013), for coverage totaling $3 million. Early in 2014, Mr. Jaar passed away.  Global Energy submitted to William Penn a claim for the insurance benefits payable under the policies. Because Mr. Jaar’s death occurred within two years of the policies being issued – during what is known as the contestability period – William Penn was entitled to conduct an investigation to ensure that the information provided in the applications for the policies was accurate and complete. Autopsy results showed that Mr. Jaar had marijuana, ketamine, and ecstasy in his blood at the time of his death, causing William Penn to investigate Mr. Jaar’s history of using these substances.  After obtaining additional background information, William Penn denied payment of the insurance proceeds on the grounds that Mr. Jaar had smoked and/or used drugs at the time of the applications and failed to disclose these facts, materially misrepresenting the risk of insuring his life.

Global Energy filed suit for breach of contract against William Penn, claiming that Mr. Jaar did not smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or use drugs at the time of the applications but that any use of these substances began shortly before his death.  Despite testimony from every witness who knew him well (including his widow) that Mr. Jaar was not a smoker and did not use drugs in the key 2012-2013 time frame, William Penn persisted in its denial of payment based on its theory that Mr. Jaar had misrepresented his history of smoking and/or drug use.

The parties tried the case without a jury in June 2018; Justice Kahn issued his memorandum opinion on October 22, 2018, finding that William Penn did not meet its burden to establish that Mr. Jaar had made any material misrepresentation on the life insurance applications. In particular, Justice Kahn found that the testimony of William Penn’s forensic expert, Dr. Michael Baden (who served as an expert in the O.J. Simpson trial) was not convincing, particularly in light of his reliance on inadmissible, unreliable hearsay statements.

If you recently lost a loved one who had life insurance for which payment was denied or which you fear may be denied, the life insurance attorneys at Trief & Olk are available to answer your questions and represent you if life insurance has been denied. Feel free to consult our website for examples of the many successes we have had when life insurance companies denied payment or call us directly to discuss how we may help you.