Arizona court refuses to apply slayer statute
In Prudential v. Thomas, Judge Tuchi of the US Court for the District of Arizona considered the application of the Arizona slayer statute. Ultimately, the court found a lack of evidence to deny life insurance benefits to the decedent's wife.
The decedent, Levon Thomas, had purchased a life insurance policy through his employer, Peabody Energy Company. It was part of an ERISA plan, administered by Prudential Insurance Company of America. Thomas named his wife, Beverly, as the primary beneficiary. He named his children as the contingent beneficiaries.
Thomas died under the following circumstances, as set out by the court:
Beverly filed a claim for the life insurance benefits. However, Prudential did not pay out the policy because of the circumstances surrounding Thomas’s death. Instead, Prudential filed an Interpleader action lawsuit for a court determination of to whom the benefits should be paid.
One of the claimants filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to find that Beverly was disqualified by the Arizona slayer statute. That statute provided:
The court noted that the party seeking to apply the slayer statute relied primarily on the fact that Beverly had asserted her 5th Amendment right to against self-incrimination in response to interrogatories. In short, she refused to answer questions about her husband's death to avoid potentially implicating herself in a potential later criminal case.
The federal court court noted that in civil cases, Arizona courts permit “the trier of fact ... to infer the truth of the charged misconduct.” However, any such inference must be supported by "independent evidence of the fact about which the party refuses to testify.” The court noted:
Accordingly, the federal court awarded the policy benefits to Beverly.