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Judge Finds for Defendant in Unum Life Insurance Lawsuit

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Richmond, VAA lawsuit filed against Unum has resulted in a victory for the defendant, after the district court granted Unum’s motion for summary judgment. The lawsuit involved a former Navy SEAL who committed suicide. His wife, Jennifer Collins, filed a lawsuit against Unum after the insurance company denied her claim.

David Collins was a Navy SEAL for 17 years, according to court documents, and was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. His deployments were stressful, often involving life-threatening situations. As a result, David was sleep deprived. After he retired from the Navy in 2012, David enrolled in life insurance through Unum. One policy was a basic life insurance policy and the other was supplemental. The supplemental life insurance policy, which added $500,000 in coverage, excluded coverage for death by suicide.

Around 2011, Jennifer Collins and David’s colleagues noticed changes in him, including irritability, depression, isolation and confusion. In 2014, David was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric ward at the hospital for a voluntary psychiatric evaluation. Although doctors acknowledged he was exposed to hundreds of subconcussive explosions - which are linked to traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia - and that his memory was impaired, they found his brain was “within normal limits.” He was released from the hospital on February 5, 2014. Doctors found he was not a danger to himself or other people.

Shortly thereafter, David began treatment for his brain injuries. Despite seeking treatment, on March 12, 2014, David took his own life. The following month, Jennifer filed a claim for benefits under both David’s insurance policies. Unum denied the claim under the supplemental policy because of the suicide exclusion (although it paid under the basic policy, which also had a suicide exclusion).

Jennifer appealed Unum’s decision, arguing that because David did not have the mental capacity to commit suicide - based on the finding of traumatic brain injury impairing his judgment - the supplemental policy claim should have been allowed. Unum denied the appeal on the basis of the findings by a senior medical director at Unum, who found David was capable of understanding the consequences of his actions.

Jenifer then filed a lawsuit against Unum, but the District Court of Virginia agreed with Unum that the suicide exclusion was reasonable even without an account of his mental state at the time. Unum’s policy excluded people who take their own lives, regardless of their mental capacity at the time, which means it does not matter whether David was capable of understanding his decision, his death still counts as suicide and is therefore not covered by his policy.

As a result, the judge granted Unum’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is Collins v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, case number 2:15-cv-00188, in US District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division.


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