No Fishing Permitted

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Q: My husband’s automobile skidded on a patch of ice, crossed the opposite lane and struck some concrete steps on the east side of the northbound lane.  The coroner called it an accident.

A month later, our accident insurer had discovered my husband’s four-day hospitalization for some minor heart pains seven years prior to his death, with no suggestion of any subsequent heart trouble.  The insurer developed a theory that my husband may have suffered a fatal heart attack while driving, causing him to go off the road and receive a broken neck seconds later.  Under those circumstances, our insurer would have no liability under the policy.  It now demanded an autopsy.  The family refused.

A: Many people have great sensitivity to autopsies, particularly when exhumation is involved, based on emotional and aesthetic sensibilities as well as strong religious convictions.  An unscrupulous insurer might demand an autopsy, knowing it will be refused, as an improper and highly unethical means of escaping liability under the policy.  As a matter of public policy, the quiet of the grave and repose of the dead are not lightly to be disturbed.  Once the body has gone to its final resting place, remote possibilities will not suffice and ‘fishing expeditions’ are not permitted.

In the absence of documents that assures the reasonableness of the request, whether the insurer’s request for an autopsy, especially post-interment, is reasonable constitutes an issue of fact that requires a trial.  Whether the insurer can bar recovery depends upon whether its request is found to have been reasonable.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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