Life Insurance Claim And Who Caused Death

The law in Texas regarding who is excluded from receiving life insurance benefits when the insured has been killed is clear.  Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.151, says that the named beneficiary forfeits their rights in the life insurance proceeds if the beneficiary is a principal or accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured.

This issue is discussed in this 2019, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division opinion styled, Reliastar Life Insurance Company, P.T., a minor, and D.T., a minor v. Itani Milleni f/k/a Trang Vu.

This is an interpleader case filed by Reliastar, who insured the life of Tuyet Tran.  Reliastar needed this Court to decide whether Trang Vu, Tuyet’s husband and primary beneficiary, or P.T. and D.T., Tuyet’s children and contingent beneficiaries, are entitled to the proceeds.  This suit was instigated because Vu was suspected of murdering Tuyet, which if true, would disqualify him from receiving the insurance proceeds.  Vu was never prosecuted for the death of Tuyet, but a criminal conviction is not a prerequisite for forfeiting the insurance proceeds.

Vu has filed a motion for summary judgment contending he is entitled to the insurance proceeds.

In this case the children have no direct evidence linking Vu to the death of Tuyet, only circumstantial evidence, however, direct evidence is not required.  Circumstantial evidence can be the sole basis for a judgment that a potential beneficiary killed the insured and consequently is not entitled to life insurance proceeds.

There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that perhaps Vu intended to harm Tuyet based upon his years of physical and verbal abuse.  This abuse included instances of Vu striking Tuyet with his hands, objects such as furniture, and belts.  These incidents of abuse would be triggered by minor events such as improperly cooked foods or Tuyet’s failure to follow Vu’s instructions.  Vu did these acts both in private and in public, in front of family members and non-family members.  Much of the evidence in this regard is from Vu himself.  He has admitted on camera that one of his mistakes was taking care of business, of abusing his wife, in front of witnesses.  Eventually there were divorce proceedings, police intervention, and the State taking custody of the children.

Tuyet and Vu eventually separated and Tuyet sought a restraining order.  They were to meet with a new caseworker, Armstrong, on July 21, 2015.  On July 20, Vu met Armstrong around 3PM and according to Armstrong, the meeting with Vu escalated with Vu leaving in anger and being upset.

Vu went to Tuyet’s salon about 6PM, and upon arrival there were several students and instructors present.  After they left, Vu claims an unidentified African American male walked into the salon and then left without saying a word.  Vu kept a gun and small axe in his car and says he retrieved the gun to help close the salon for the night.  Eventually only Vu and Tuyet were left in the salon.  Vu says he left after about 15 minutes and states he saw the same African American male and others lingering in the parking lot.

This same night Tuyet died of blunt force trauma to the head.  She was found the next morning dead in her salon.  The ax which Vu normally kept in his car was lost.  The time of death was estimated to be 8:41 p.m.  Vu by his own admission was the last person known to have seen her alive.

The crime scene showed Tuyet’s cell phone destroyed, her credit cards were in plain sight but not taken, cash was sticking out of her pocket, and there was no forced entry into the cash register.  Tuyet’s car was near the salon with a window broken and the key in the ignition.

The Court denied Vu’s motion for summary judgment stating there was enough circumstantial evidence to believe a jury would find Vu responsible for the death of Tuyet.