Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sky Diver's Daughters Fight State Farm on Death Benefits

MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - After making 7,000 successful jumps, a veteran parachutist died unexpectedly when he passed out shortly after jumping from an airplane and before deploying his parachute. His two daughters say his insurance company won't pay $400,000 in death benefits because of an exclusion that doesn't apply. 

 William O. Doherty, who was 53 when he died, made the jump so he could take pictures of other parachutists, his two daughters say in federal court in Madison.
Erin Doherty and Kelly Doherty say State Farm Life and Accident Assurance Company refused to pay their father's death benefits because his policy contains this exclusion: "Descent from an aircraft while in flight." But the daughters claim the cause of their father's death is unknown, since a coroner couldn't examine his body to discover why he passed out.

 "Within moments of his exit," they say, their father "lost consciousness and began to descend to earth in a backward fall with his arms and legs trailing upward. He made no sound. He made no gestures or movements. He drifted away from the group of parachutists. He did not pull the rip cord on his parachute; though the parachute was in working order. He contacted the ground without having deployed his parachute."

They admit that their fathers' death occurred during a descent from an aircraft, but say "his death was not causally related to, nor did it result from, descent from an airplane in flight."

 The daughters say "there is no medical proof possible as to the cause of death" because an autopsy could not be performed on his head or brain due to the violent nature of the fall.

Doherty held two life insurance policies from State Farm - one with a basic death benefit of $200,000 and a second with a basic death benefit of $50,000, plus a "universal life" death benefit of $150,000. Both listed his two daughters as joint beneficiaries.

Their father died on Sept. 20, 2008, but despite properly making claims and written demand for payment, they say State Farm refuses to make the pay-outs.

William Doherty was making the dive with Sky Knights Sport Parachute Club, which is near the airport in East Troy, Wisc. The club didn't return a call for comment.

His daughters are seeking payment of the $400,000 death benefits under a breach of contract claim. They are represented by David Albright of Eagan, Minn.

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