Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Class Claims in Death Master File Case

In February, we published an article discussing the trial court’s decision in Andrews v. Nationwide Ins. Co., Cuyahoga Co. Case No. CV-11-756463 (McMonagle, J.). The issue in Andrews was whether Nationwide is required to take proactive measures to annually and independently search the Death Master File to determine whether any of its insured’s beneficiaries has a claim for life insurance proceeds. 

The trial court held that (1) the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring these claims because their injuries were too speculative — i.e., they were contingent on a number of future events that may never occur — and (2) the life insurance policies at issue were clear, requiring that death benefits could be paid only “upon receiving proof that the Insured died” and “immediately upon receipt of the death” of the insured. 

On appeal, the Eighth District Court of Appeals recently affirmed dismissal. Unlike the trial court, the Court of Appeals did not base its decision on the plaintiffs’ lack of standing. Rather, the court affirmed the trial court’s grant of Nationwide’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based on the express terms of plaintiffs’ life insurance contracts.

Both the plain language of the life insurance policies at issue and established Ohio law place the burden of furnishing proof of death on the beneficiary or claimant — not on the insurance company.
As noted in our prior article on this case, the Andrews case stands as authority for the proposition that legal defenses to class claims can — and should — be raised at the earliest possible point in the proceedings. Contract interpretation issues like this one may be addressed as a matter of law and may be decided before a class certification decision is made.

Insurance Industry, Ohio Class Action Law, Pre-Certification Motions