Posted on Monday, July 27th, 2015

What Lawyers Do

Our law firm was pleased to host the regular monthly meeting of the Lansdowne Business and Professional Association on June 9, 2015, in our office at 55 N. Lansdowne Ave. Since 1962, I have been a member of this organization, obtained a corporate charter for it in 1975, served as president in 1980 and again in 2011. For over a half-century, the LBPA has worked to improve lansdowne through the combined efforts ofthe men and women who own and operate businesses and professions within the Borough of Lansdowne.

Lawyers who represent businesses and professional people try to understand the nature of each client’s business, concerns, what is important to them. It occurred to me that the average person who has had little if any professional contact with a lawyer may not know how this professional can help others. So I related a case from about 15 years ago that had multiple problems, to illustrate what lawyers do.

A boy came home from school to find that his mother was dead in her bedroom. His father was soon arrested and jailed, charged with the crime of murder. The court appointed an experienced trial lawyer who began a vigorous representation and defense.

But what of the two children, still in grade school, their mother dead, their father in prison? Their grandfather, who is the hero of this story, came at once from his own home in another county, took the young boys to his home. He contacted a local lawyer for advice in this situation. The lawyer contacted local police, who already had a general understanding of the situation. He contacted the boys’ school and arranged for approval for them to continue in their classes while he filed a petition for their grandparents to be appointed legal custodians with full parental authority for school and other purposes.

The lawyer gathered outstanding bills and claims against the parents, notified the mortgage holder, credit card companies, and others of the situation and obtained a moratorium on dunning bills and phone calls. He looked into possible life insurance and other sources of money to meet the ongoing expenses of the household. He prepared documents for the grandparents to legally deal with the claims and inquiries that were coming from several directions at once. He arranged for a civil lawyer to visit and represent the boys’ father who was expected to be in prison a long time. There was no escaping the fact that bills had been falling behind before the mother’s death, and this was now aggravated by the sudden stopping of income from both mother and father.

The boys’ grandparents had moved into the family home, surrendering their own apartment, and were spending their own money to meet their grandsons’ expenses and the home mortgage. One day the grandfather came to the lawyer’s office with a check for around $1300 from an insurance company.

This could be a big help – it could pay back tuition for the boys’ school, or it could cover a mortgage payment, any number of valuable uses.

The lawyer took the insurance check, wondering why it was addressed to the house, and what it was for. He found that he had previously written to the insurance company about payment of a $50,000 life insurance policy on the mother’s life. Instead of replying to the lawyer, the insurance company had sent a check directly to the deceased’s house: it was a return of the premium. To cash it would have relieved that insurance company of further liability on the $50,000 policy – which also had a double indemnity rider in case of accidental death.

The lawyer notified the insurance company that the family would not accept a return of premium, but would insist on payment of the full face amount of benefits. Meanwhile, he began researching how to obtain the double indemnity coverage, for another another $50,000. It was not an easy problem.

The insurance company rightly pointed out that the named beneficiary on the policy, insured mother’s husband, could not collect because of the state Slayer’s Act – he was the presumptive causer of insured’s death. The lawyer countered that the policy either contained a contingent beneficiary provision, or a facility of payment provision that would call for payment to go the minor children.

But the double indemnity provision was a more difficult nut to crack. Again, the insurance company argued that the mother’s death was no accident: she was deliberately shot by a handgun at close range.

The family’s lawyer spent a lot of time researching this issue, finding no PA statute or case on point. The research was expanded to the statutes and cases of other states, and the lawyer kept grinding away, in his own law library, in the court house library, returning to the issue time after time.

Finally, he found a case from the highest court of another state. The court held under similar facts that the shooting death, while intentional from the standpoint of the shooter, was nonetheless unexpected by the victim, such that from that standpoint it was accidental, and an insurance double indemnity policy applied.

The family’s lawyer researched a bit more, then prepared .a legal memorandum and sent it to the insurance company with a demand that it pay the full amount of the policy, including double indemnity for accidental death.

Weeks went by, months went by, and one day came an envelope in the mail. There was no letter, just a check for $103,000. The check stub itemized: $50,000 basic life insurance, plus $50,000 double indemnity, plus $3,000 post-death interest. The post-death interest alone was more than twice the return of premium check which the insurance company had tried to pay to escape full liability under its policy.

This incident illustrates what a lawyer can do for his clients. It came about because the grandfather consulted a lawyer in the first place; and then cautiously brought a check to the lawyer first, before cashing it when it could have been quickly used to pay some pressing bills.

The greatest satisfaction the average lawyer can ever have is to solve a problem that will help his client in the face of difficult odds. Help your lawyer achieve his fondest goal: bring him your hopeless case.

By F.D. Hennessy, Jr., Esq.
July 27, 2015

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