Heath Ledger’s life insurance company dragging its feet over paying claim

While Heath Ledger’s family has settled the late actor’s estate recently, leaving it entirely to his 2-year-old daughter, Matilda, the life insurance company that underwrote his $10 Million policy isn’t moving so quickly. Though Ledger’s death was ruled accidental, ReliaStar Life Insurance Company is saying that his death could have been a suicide- in which case, the policy is null and void. And now, lawyers acting on behalf of Matilda Ledger are suing the company.

The company that wrote Heath Ledger’s $10 million life insurance policy is being sued after claiming the actor’s death might have been a suicide, even though officials concluded it was accidental. Lawyers for Ledger’s daughter say it’s a transparent ploy to avoid paying the money.

ReliaStar Life Insurance Company wrote the policy in June 2007 — six months before Ledger died. The beneficiary of the policy is a trustee who would hold the money for 2-year-old Matilda.

Instead of paying the $10 mil, ReliaStar set out to investigate whether Ledger took his own life, despite the fact that the New York City Medical Examiner ruled the death accidental.

TMZ has obtained a lawsuit, filed by Matilda’s trustee, claiming ReliaStar (owned by ING Americas) has acted in bad faith by not promptly paying the $10 million and by wrongfully prying into the life of Heath Ledger after his death.

Sources say lawyers for the insurance company have claimed Ledger’s death was “suspicious” — possibly suicide, which would nullify the policy. The company alleges in its answer to the lawsuit, “ReliaStar is entitled to investigate Plaintiff’s claim to determine if the ‘Suicide’ provision is applicable.” That provision states, “If the Insured commits suicide … we will pay only the amount of premiums paid to us.”

ReliaStar’s lawyers have informed Matilda’s lawyers they intend to take the depositions of Mary-Kate Olsen, as well as the masseuse who was at Ledger’s home when he died, Ledger’s colleagues on his last film, his agents, doctors, psychologists and others. Lawyers for Matilda believe the insurance company is trying to scare and shame them into submission. They believe ReliaStar is trying to drag the process out, for what could be years, to avoid paying the money.

We’re also told ReliaStar believes Ledger may have lied on two questions on his insurance application — specifically, whether he was taking prescription drugs when he filled out the application and whether he ever used illegal drugs.

In its answer to the lawsuit, ReliaStar claims it can contest the policy if Ledger lied on the application and it was a “material misrepresentation.” Sources tell us Ledger had a prescription for Ambien when he filled out the application, but Ambien was not in his system when he died, nor were any illegal drugs.

Lawyers for Matilda’s trust claim ReliaStar is flagrantly violating California law, which prohibits insurance companies from re-examining insurance applications after the policyholder dies. In the lawsuit, Matilda’s lawyers say they received a letter from ReliaStar, asking them to identify “all physicians who attended to [Ledger] and all hospitals or institutions where [he] was treated since 1996.” Matilda’s lawyers say the request blatantly violates the law.

An official for ReliaStar told TMZ, “No decision has been made on the claim.” But lawyers for Matilda’s trust believe ReliaStar should have already paid and, according to the suit, is acting “maliciously, fraudulently and/or oppressively … depriving plaintiff of the insurance policy benefits.”

[From TMZ]

The way I see it, the insurance company is on shaky ground here if the cause of death was already ruled an accident. Maybe one of our esteemed commenters with a background in estate law can shed some light here. It seems obvious to me that the company is trying to get out of paying the policy (probably due to the latest economic woes affecting the insurance industry) and will do anything to avoid it- including dragging Ledger through the mud once again. It’s absolutely sickening.

Michelle Williams is shown at the premiere of ‘Wendy and Lucy’ during the New York Film Festival on 9/27/08. Michelle and Heath are shown out in NY on 3/30/06. Credit: WENN.

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16 Responses to “Heath Ledger’s life insurance company dragging its feet over paying claim”

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  1. CB Rawks says:

    That’s disgusting. I hope the result is that the company has so many cancellations that they go belly-up.
    I would certainly cancel a policy with
    them, because they’ve proven they wont actually honour it.

  2. carey says:

    If it is true that Heath answered that he had never done illegal drugs and was not on any medication at the time he signed the insurance contract, then the contract should be null and void.

  3. brianne says:

    this is so sad. I mean, if this is what happens to the high rollers. Imagine the circus that the little guy has to go through that doesn’t have the means to trap them in litigation for years at a time! The evil of insurance companies astounds me! :evil:

  4. Kaiser says:

    CB – The Appaloosa trailer ad is making everything run really slowly.

    Re: Heath – So, wait. I thought there were prescription drugs (of some kind) in Heath’s system at the time of death…

    Not that it would make his death any less of an accident. But it sounds like the insurance company is going to drag out a lot of witnesses to Heath’s drug taking. It’s going to be a mess.

  5. Enn says:

    Carey – who’s to say that he was taking the prescriptions when he signed the policy? Also, I thought it was made pretty clear in the ME report that it was an accidental overdose.

  6. clare says:

    Is this insurance company run by the Cult of Scientology? It sounds like the ‘fair game’ sort of thing they would do.
    ETA: To be clear, I’m not saying that Heath was a scientologist – just the people who run the insurance company!

  7. Lola says:

    I hate insurance companies. I don’t know why it still hurts when I read anything about Heath or see his picture or his daughter. I am a huge fan of his and I just loved the guy. He had great chemistry with Michelle too. Look at them, they were so perfect together. Why oh why do these things happen?

  8. daisy424 says:

    Fat cat insurance company pricks, rot in hell.

  9. Carena says:

    The only difference here is that they can afford good lawyers so they will get their money.

    These insurance companies pull this all the time with “normal people” who can’t afford to be in court a year or more. They hope you drop the claim rather than fight it out for such a long time.

    If the examiner said accident, it is an accident and they should pay. Period.

  10. Jo says:

    You show me how many people with Insurance policies that AREN’T on meds of some kind. These days mostly Anti -Depressants. It’s known he was doing well, just had trouble sleeping. He wasn’t an abuser of drugs. The coroner stated accidental death. They are just dragging their feet. But, that what they do. :twisted:

  11. Bodhi says:

    What a bunch of BS. The company isn’t doing itself any favors by dragging this out. They will have to pay something eventually

  12. Liana says:

    Although my legal knowledge is not specifically in estates per se, or even specifically US law (I’m Australian), the insurers may have a leg to stand on under the “material misrepresentation” claim (although not likely the “suicide” claim, as the death was ruled ‘accidental’.)

    If he lied about his prescription drug use (and on the balance of probabilities this is fairly likely, since this representation was made 6 months before he died of a prescription drug overdose…) then denying the extent of his prescription drug use is probably a material misrepresentation, seeing as it was that very behaviour that led to his death. The insurers would have had a right to know about his drug use, seeing as it was so severe that it ended up causing his death.

    In the alternative, and he wasn’t on any drugs at the time he took the policy out (remembering that it was only 6 months before he died), I would guarantee that his policy contract included an ongoing disclosure clause, requiring him to tell the insurers if any of his circumstances change at all. We’re talking about a $10 million dollar contract here; there’s no way the insurers would leave themselves unprotected in any way at all.

    I’m not defending the actions of the insurers, and I am aware that these tactics are employed against many, many claimants, but the whole issue ought to highlight to people just how important it is to be frankly honest when taking out these policies, even when telling a small lie could reduce your premium. Never give them a leg to stand on when they inevitably take you to court.

  13. Nick P says:

    As a Georgia insurance agent specializing in life and health insurance, I can say that this one’s standard operating procedure. Anytime an insured dies of non-natural causes on a claim this large, the insurance company performs an investigation. 99 times out of a hundred, the claim is paid just fine – I think this one’s been blown out of proportion by folks who just don’t particularly care for insurance companies.

  14. Andrew says:

    Sad story. The insurance company will do the utmost not to pay money. It any more the first similar case. And trial in court can be tightened for very long time.
    The insurance company can be understood (but not to justify). If to pay to everyone on $10 mil it is possible to become the bankrupt quickly.

  15. John says:

    This is actually horrific. This whole process seems way to dragged out. It appears that insurance companies will do anything in their power to avoid paying up and actually “insuring” people.