Northwestern Mutual won a court victory saving the company a reported $4 million last week when a Florida jury decided that a 2016 lawyer's death was a suicide.
Desmond H. Staple died March 16, 2016. According to news reports, he was found unresponsive in his car in a Walmart parking lot in Hillsborough County. The medical examiner found large quantities of acetaminophen and aspirin in his blood stream.
His wife, Cheryl Staple, filed a lawsuit in November 2017 after Northwestern declined to pay benefits on three term life policies and one whole life policy. Desmond Staple was covered by all four policies at the time of his death. News reports peg the total combined benefits at $4 million.
In court documents, his wife, claimed Desmond Staple's death was accidental.
"The Decedent Staple did not intentionally take his life. Nonetheless, the Insurance Company refuses to pay benefits owed to Mrs. Staple," the lawsuit reads. "Prior to the commencement of this lawsuit, the Insurance Company was in possession of at least one expert report indicating that the manner of death of the Decedent Staple was not intentional. Nonetheless, the Insurance Company refuses to pay benefits."
Northwestern relied on the autopsy report from the Hillsborough County medical examiner to back up its decision to withhold benefits, the lawsuit said. Cheryl Staple maintained that the report "contains material errors."
After three-plus years of legal wrangling, a jury trial was held over a Zoom call Jan. 25-29.
A lawyer who specialized in insurance and health care issues, Desmond Staple immigrated to the United States from Kingston, Jamaica in 1983. The Staples were married in 2003 and lived in Town 'n' Country, Fla.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.
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