Monday, November 9, 2009

Forbes Covers Case on Which I Worked

Over the past couple of years, I have served as expert witness on a case, Prudential v. Giacobbe. Ultimately, the judge threw out my expert witness report essentially for my giving legal opinion while not being a lawyer, but the attorney reworked my arguments as a legal brief and we won.

Forbes has written up the case here. This was the first time my work has been thrown out by a court, but not the first time the other side has tried. Several years ago I spent an entire day in deposition in downtown Chicago defending against that argument.

It is, of course, not the first time a national magazine has written about a case on which I worked, because I also started working on In Re Tittle et al. v. Enron before it was settled. The Forbes article doesn't mention that while the initial arguments were based on common law, we shifted the discussion to ERISA. The Prudential life insurance plan was an ERISA plan, and so the rule of ERISA outweighed the common law arguments. It is difficult for trial lawyers to work with ERISA because it is a specialized field. Courts' rules tend to favor big business. I worked cheap for the plaintiff, as is my policy.

Forbes writes:

>With death knocking at your door, you realize some family members are more important to you than others, and decide to change your life insurance policy accordingly.

What could go wrong? Just ask the Giacobbe family of southern New Jersey. Inaccurate change-of-beneficiary forms Richard Giacobbe submitted to his life insurer two weeks before his March 2007 death left his wife battling his parents and brother over three-quarters of a million dollars worth of benefits.

Richard, an insurance agent at Prudential Insurance, had named his wife Linda as the beneficiary on his company-sponsored life insurance shortly before their 1986 marriage. In March 2006, he was diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer. As his condition worsened, there were signs he was becoming estranged from Linda; eight months after he was diagnosed, he began living alone in a rented apartment not far from the couples' Toms River, N.J., home.

On March 6, 2007, Prudential received a change-of-beneficiary form from Richard naming new primary beneficiaries on his life insurance: his mother, Kathleen; father, Robert; and brother, also named Robert. On March 21, Richard received a letter back from Prudential informing him that his beneficiary change form could not be processed because it was missing his family members' Social Security numbers. Richard never sent back the corrected forms and died the following day.

It wasn't long before Linda was locked in a court fight with her dead husband's immediate blood relatives over who should get the $751,000. The key question in the case: whether the incomplete change-of-beneficiary form was proof that Richard truly intended to remove his wife from his life insurance policy in favor of his parents and brother.

Read the whole thing here.

1 comment:

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