Life Insurance Lawyers – Is The Person Dead?

This may seem strange but there are times an insurance company will deny a claim for life insurance benefits based on their assertion that the insured has not been proven to be dead.  This is discussed in the 1987, Texas Supreme Court opinion styled, Davidson v. Great National Life Insurance Company.

Here are some interesting facts.  In May 1980, a man identifying himself as Dauod Alquassab applied for a $1,000,000 life insurance policy with Great National.  Alquassab had previously used the names of David Kassab and David Kay; was a convicted of felony fraud charges under a different name.  Alquassab named Ilan Eiger, his partner in a real estate business, as the beneficiary when Great National issued the policy in June 1980.  In September 1980, Alquassab changed the beneficiary designation from Eiger to Phyllis Davidson, his former wife from whom he was divorced in 1968.  Alquassab then traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, in February 1981.  Prior to his departure, the record indicates that Alquassab allegedly defrauded First City Bank in Houston, of approximately $1.5 million dollars, and committed additional acts of fraud upon other banking institutions.

On Wednesday, February 11, 1981, a body was discovered approximately 100-200 yards from the hotel where Alquassab was registered.  The body, which Davidson claims was Alquassab, had been struck by a car and then dragged face down.  Great National was notified of Alquassab’s alleged death on February 12; the body was buried the following day, Friday, February 13.  After Davidson made a formal claim under the policy to Great National on June 1, Great National rescinded the policy because of Alquassab’s alleged fraud in procuring the policy, and refused to pay any beneficiary proceeds to Davidson.

The controversy here concerns the testimony of one of Davidson’s witnesses, Schmuel Carmelli, a high-ranking Tel Aviv police officer.  At the trial, Davidson elicited testimony from Carmelli concerning his initial investigation including Carmelli’s inspection of the body outside the hotel, interviews with relatives of Alquassab who identified the body as Alquassab, and conclusions regarding the identity of the body.  Although Carmelli did not actually identify the body as Alquassab in the presence of the jury, he stated he was certain he knew the identity.  Davidson, through Carmelli, also introduced photographs of the body taken at the morgue.

On cross-examination, Great National attempted to discredit and impeach Carmelli’s direct testimony by inquiring about (1) a subsequent report made by the Israeli police to the United States Embassy supposedly casting doubts upon Carmelli’s initial investigation, (2) Carmelli’s lack of knowledge regarding Alquassab’s earlier fraud convictions at the time of his initial investigation, and (3) Carmelli’s lack of knowledge concerning a criminal connection between Alquassab and a witness, Reuben Shamash, who identified Alquassab’s body for the police at the morgue.  Carmelli refused to answer these questions, claiming a privilege that the questions involved matters currently under investigation. Great National also sought to bolster its conspiracy theory by soliciting the identification of the murder suspects.  Again, Carmelli refused to answer on claim of privilege although he later testified on redirect that one of Davidson’s favorable witnesses–Shamash–was not a suspect.

In the trial of this case, there were other matters discussed regarding evidence and their admissibility.  Davidson prevailed at trial but the jury verdict was overturned on appeal.  This Court upheld the trial court.

This case is an interesting read.