When Does the Suicide Exclusion Prevent Payment of Life Insurance Benefits?

Most people who are beneficiaries under a life insurance policy presume that when the insured dies the insurance company will pay out under the policy.  While this frequently happens, there are a number of exclusions that can prevent a beneficiary from receiving payments under a life insurance policy.  One exclusion that can preclude recovery involves the suicide of the insured. 

Suicide clauses that bar the payment of benefits if the insured commits suicide are included in virtually all life insurance policies.  However, the exclusion can be buried in the policy and difficult to identify.  The clause will usually be no more than a sentence or two and may not actually use the term suicide.  Phrases that might be used to cover this exclusion include “death by the insured’s own hand” or “intentional self-destruction.”  This variation in the way the exclusion is phrased can lead to disputes when interpreting whether a particular death falls within the exclusion. 

While it might seem natural to assume that the meaning of the term “suicide” or the related phrases above are self-explanatory, insurance companies and policyholders often dispute the nature of the intent that must be present for an act to be excluded under this type of provision.

I have provided some examples of situations where the suicide exclusion typically will apply:

Acts Constituting Suicide

Intentionally taking you own life in an obvious way: This is the most clear cut type of suicide.  Examples might include:

  • A self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head
  • Using a rope to hang oneself
  • Jumping form a bridge or high building

Intentionally engaging in conduct with a high probability of causing a fatality: This type of activity might include playing Russian roulette where participants take turns firing a partially loaded firearm at their own head.  Although the objective of the game is to avoid having a chamber with a bullet in the firing position, the high risk involved in the game will usually make the activity fall within the suicide exclusion.  When a person uses a substantial quantity of drugs or commits DWI/DUI, these types of high risk activities also will typically fall within the exclusion for suicide.

Fatality while engaged in conduct constituting a felony: This might include “death by police officer”, such as situations where a person provokes a shootout with law enforcement officers.  When a person takes an excessive amount of sleeping pills or otherwise intentionally overdoses, this will typically preclude receiving benefits under a life insurance policy.

Acts Not Considered Suicide

There are other actions that some would consider suicide that generally do not preclude the paying of benefits to beneficiaries:

Reckless Driving: While driving at speeds exceeding a hundred miles per hour or driving while distracted might constitute a high risk of causing a fatal crash, this type of conduct will usually not be considered suicide under a life insurance policy.

Insanity: The impact of evidence that an insured was insane at the time of death will vary based on the laws of a particular state, evidence of insanity will complicate the insurance company’s ability to prove the insured committed suicide.

Unintentional Overdoses: While intentional overdoses will typically constitute suicide, an overdose or alcohol poisoning that is simply accidental will not fall within the suicide exclusion.

Enlisting the Assistance of Another Person: If a person is enlisted to kill an insured at the policyholder’s own request, this is considered an act of homicide, so it will not fall under the suicide exclusion.

If you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, we invite you to contact us if you have questions about policy exclusions.  I am an experienced Miami life insurance claims attorney who handles disputed claims in Miami and throughout Florida.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations.  No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees.  Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.

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