Menu

Expect Focus Life, Annuity, and Retirement Solutions, March 2019

Read Your Policy Carefully: UL Policy’s Plain Language Requires Dismissal of Putative Class Action Challenging Increased Premiums and COI Rates

Life, Annuity, and Retirement Litigation   |   Financial Services Regulatory   |   Insurance   |   Class Actions   |   April 4, 2019
Download   
Share Page

The Southern District of Indiana recently dismissed a putative class action alleging that the defendant-insurer improperly inflated premiums and cost of insurance (COI) rates on universal life policies.

In Couch v. Wilco Life Insurance Co., the plaintiff’s universal life insurance policy, purchased in 1987 from a predecessor of Wilco Life Insurance Co., included a monthly planned premium of $81. Steadily, Wilco increased the plaintiff’s premium to more than $270 per month, which Wilco assessed directly from the policy’s cash value. But the plaintiff failed to maintain sufficient cash value, causing the policy to lapse. The plaintiff then filed suit for breach of contract and declaratory judgment, asserting, among other claims, that Wilco improperly increased his premiums and used impermissible factors in determining COI rates. Wilco moved to dismiss, arguing that the policy clearly explained that premiums and COI rates could increase over time.

In dismissing the plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim, the court determined that Wilco could charge more than the $81 planned premium; the policy’s plain language stated that the premium required to keep the policy in force might increase, given rising COI rates, which naturally increased as the plaintiff aged.

Similarly, the court found that Wilco could consider factors other than those tied to an insured’s mortality when setting COI rates, as the policy provided only two limitations on Wilco’s determination of COI rates:

  1. that the rates not exceed those set forth in the policy’s table of guaranteed rates; and
  2. that any change in COI rates would apply uniformly to similarly situated policyholders.

The plaintiff did not contend Wilco breached either of those requirements. The court distinguished cases involving COI provisions that included “based on” or “depend on” language, but it determined that even if the policy included such language, the Seventh Circuit’s decisions in Thao v. Midland National Life Insurance Co. and Norem v. Lincoln Benefit Life Co. would require dismissal of a claim that Wilco could consider only those factors listed in his policy when setting COI rates.

Finally, the court exercised its discretion to dismiss the plaintiff’s declaratory-relief claim, finding that the plaintiff’s request for declarations regarding the COI rates was duplicative of the dismissed breach-of-contract claims. Because the policy’s unambiguous language precluded the plaintiff’s claims, the court ultimately dismissed the case with prejudice.

 


©2019 Carlton Fields, P.A. Carlton Fields practices law in California through Carlton Fields, LLP. Carlton Fields publications should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information and educational purposes only, and should not be relied on as if it were advice about a particular fact situation. The distribution of this publication is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship with Carlton Fields. This publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or proceeding without the prior written consent of the firm, to be given or withheld at our discretion. To request reprint permission for any of our publications, please use our Contact Us form via the link below. The views set forth herein are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the firm. This site may contain hypertext links to information created and maintained by other entities. Carlton Fields does not control or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this outside information, nor is the inclusion of a link to be intended as an endorsement of those outside sites.

Subscribe to Publications

Disclaimer

The information on this website is presented as a service for our clients and Internet users and is not intended to be legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. Although we welcome your inquiries, please keep in mind that merely contacting us will not establish an attorney-client relationship between us. Consequently, you should not convey any confidential information to us until a formal attorney-client relationship has been established. Please remember that electronic correspondence on the internet is not secure and that you should not include sensitive or confidential information in messages. With that in mind, we look forward to hearing from you.