Life Insurer Did Not Act In Bad Faith In Interpleader

life insurance

HARRISBURG, Pa., June 24 —  A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that the  executrix of an estate failed to establish a right to relief for a life insurer’s alleged bad faith in denying her claim for benefits under a policy of life insurance.

MONY issued Steve Eckert a life insurance policy with a death benefit of $127,000.  His wife at the time, Carol, was named the beneficiary.  In 1989, however, The Eckerts divorced, but Steve Eckert failed to remove his ex wife as the beneficiary.   Eckert remarried to Pamela Eckert in 2006.

Eckert died, and the beneficiary was never changed.  MONY filed an interpleader complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeking to pay the proceeds into court.  Eckert’s current wife, Pamela, and former wife, Carol,  both filed answers and crossclaims.  Pamela also filed a bad faith claim against MONY, and a claim alleging violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Insurance Practices Act.

MONY moved to dismiss the three counterclaims filed by Pamela Eckert.  District Judge William W. Caldwell denied the motion in part, but ordered breach of fiduciary duty and bad faith claims dismissed.  Pamela Eckert filed an amended answer, again alleging bad faith, and MONY again filed a motion to dismiss.

Judge Caldwell dismissed the bad faith claims again, finding that aside from her allegation that MONY denied her the policy proceeds, Pamela’s pleading did not support a bad faith claims since it was “wholly unconnected to a denial of benefits.”  He wrote:

“Subparagraphs (a), (d), (e) and (f) [of Eckert’s opposition brief], relate to a transfer of ownership, not to a denial of benefits. Even if they alleged actionable conduct (and we express no opinion on that matter), this conduct could not be understood to bear on a claim for policy proceeds. In other words, Eckert may be correct (at least in this case) that a transfer of ownership led to a denial of (or at least a dispute about) her claim for the proceeds of the policy, but the fact that an insurer’s conduct leads to a transfer of ownership does not mean it gives rise to a claim for denial of benefits after that transfer has been made. As judicially construed, section 8371 covers bad faith in denial of benefits, not bad faith in the transfer of ownership in a policy. Section 8371 does not reach the latter conduct.”

MONY Life Insurance Co. v. Carol Snyder, f/k/a Carol Eckert, and Pamela Eckert, No. 15-2109, M.D. Pa.; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34371)(Caldwell, J.).

 

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Author: CJ Haddick

C.J. Haddick is a Director with the law firm of Dickie, McCamey, & Chilcote, PC, based in Pittsburgh, Pa. He has advised and represented insurers in insurance coverage and bad faith litigation for more than a quarter of a century, and written and spoken throughout the United States on insurance coverage and bad faith prevention and litigation. He is Managing Director of the firm's Harrisburg, Pa. office. Reach him at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

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