Life Insurance And Beneficiary

Weatherford Insurance Lawyers and those in Aledo, Springtown, Willow Park, Millsap, Azle, Mineral Wells, Cool, Brock, and other places in Parker County would want to know about this life insurance case.
The case opinion was issued by the Houston, 14th Court of Appeals in 1990. The style of the case is, Joseph M. Rumbaut v. Steven and Scott Labagnara.
The issue deals with what is currently, Texas Insurance Code, Section 887.205(b). This section says:
“A beneficiary of a life insurance certificate forfeits the beneficiary’s interest in the certificate if the beneficiary is the principle or accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured….”
Here are some facts.
Joseph’s wife was lost at sea when a sudden storm arose in the Gulf of Mexico where the two of them were sailing. Joseph attempted to collect the life insurance proceeds and his wife’s two sons by a previous marriage, contested him and alleged that Joseph had willfully caused their mother’s death.
As argument, the sons pointed out that Joseph was an inexperienced boatsman: he had only six hours of sailing time before he and his wife set out for Cozumel on their new craft. He testified that she had been swept overboard during a storm, and that his rescue efforts were unavailing. The sons took the position that his conduct in making the trip amounted at the very least to gross negligence, given the couple’s virtually nonexistent nautical skills. So the issue was whether this conduct was “willful” such that it prohibited Joseph from recovering under the life insurance policy.
This appeals court examined Texas law and pointed out that “willfully” means:
more than intentional conduct which results from momentary thoughtlessness, inadvertence or error of judgment. It means an act or conduct committed without justification which demonstrates such an entire want of care as to indicate that the act or conduct complained of was the result of conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of the persons affected by it.
The court pointed out that there needed to be a culpable mental state on the part of Joseph. The fact that he did something that many would consider stupid, or wreckless, or grossly negligent, is not enough. He had to willfully intend the death of his wife in order to be denied the benefits of the policy for the statute in the Texas Insurance Code. This case was largely argued over the jury charge given in this case after the jury trial.
The sons argued other facts in an attempt to show that Joseph intended and willfully caused their mothers death. Some of these other points were that neither Joseph nor his wife had nautical background. That it was during hurricane season. That Joseph owed over $200,000 on his house and nearly that amount on the boat. This indebtedness paled in comparison with the $750,000 of life insurance coverage. Joseph also testified that he did not know how he was going to make payments on the house and boat, especially given that he had recently quit work. The sons argued this was a preplanned accident on Joseph’s part. There was testimony that the boat’s life lines were not working properly. That Joseph was aware the life lines were not working and that this posed enough of a problem to call for remedial measures. Joseph testified that he was not knowledgeable of the the ship’s autopilot and that his efforts to work it resulted in spacial separation between the boat and his wife which made it further more difficult to locate where she had gone overboard.
This appeals court ultimately sent the case back to the trial court for a new trial based on the wording of the jury charge.
These cases can be difficult. This case gives an experienced Insurance Law Attorney some insight as to how courts examine these cases and how the law is interpreted.