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Barbara Sicherman v. Nationwide Life Insurance Company

April 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


The plaintiff filed this action on November 18, 2011, alleging that the defendants deceived her and her late husband in connection with a life insurance policy the plaintiff's husband had with Nationwide Life Insurance Company ("Nationwide"). The complaint alleges that the defendants tricked Mr. Sicherman into allowing his life insurance policy to lapse, then failed to pay the benefits when Mrs. Sicherman attempted to collect on the policy after her husband died in December 2010. The plaintiff brings claims for violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") (Count I); Bad Faith under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371 (Count II); and Breach of Contract (Count III). The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. The Court will grant the defendants' motion.

I. Facts

The following facts are taken as true from the complaint. The plaintiff was the beneficiary, and her husband the insured, on Nationwide Life Insurance Policy No. LO34143890 (the "policy"), with a face value of $400,000. The Sichermans also had homeowner and automobile insurance with Nationwide. The policy contained a "grace period" permitting the policy to remain in force if any late payment was received within thirty-one days of the due date.*fn1 Compl. ¶¶ 10-14.

On June 13, 2010, and July 13, 2010, Mr. Sicherman was sent letters by Nationwide informing him that his life insurance premium would be increasing to $346.02 per month. Id. Ex. F. A bill prepared on July 2, 2010, however, listed Mr. Sicherman's life insurance premium as $311.62. Id. Ex. E. Mr. Sicherman paid this amount along with the premiums charged for his auto and homeowner's policies as listed in the July 2, 2010 bill. Id. ¶ 16.

On July 21, 2010, Nationwide sent a letter to Mr. Sicherman stating the following:

Please accept our apology, as we recently made an error with your last billing for the life policy referenced above. The bill you received, and paid, did not include the annual increase due to attained age as stipulated in your contract.

The life premium that was paid could not be applied because we cannot apply partial premiums. We will need a balance of $34.40 to complete the 08/07/2010 payment. The additional payment is needed within the next 20 days in order to avoid a "past due status." A business reply envelope is enclosed for your convenience.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you. If you have any questions, please contact your Sales Representative or our Customer Service Department at 800-547-7548.*fn2 Id. Ex. G.

The next bill Nationwide prepared, on August 3, 2010, lists a life insurance premium charge of $346.02, and Nationwide acknowledges in a bill dated September 3, 2010 that a payment of that amount, along with the auto and homeowner premium payments, was received on August 23. The September 3, 2010 bill states as part of Nationwide's "Billing Terms and Conditions" that "[p]ayments are applied to prior policy period balances and fees first, then to the current policy period balance in the following order: Auto, Property, Commercial and Life." Id. Exs. H, I.

Nationwide issued a check, dated August 19, 2010, to Mr. Sicherman in the amount of $311.62. The face of the check states the following: "LIFE MISCELLANEOUS DISBURSEMENT BALANCE DUE NOT RECEIVED. PLEASE CONTACT 1-800-543-3747 IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS." Id. Ex. J.

Mr. Sicherman became ill around Labor Day 2010. Id.

¶ 24. On September 28, 2010, Mr. Sicherman contacted his Nationwide agent, Michael Robinson, requesting cancellation of his auto and homeowner policies, as he had obtained replacement policies from another carrier. When Robinson did not respond, Sicherman sent a follow-up email on October 7, 2010. Robinson did not respond to that correspondence either, but Sicherman was issued refund checks for the two canceled policies on October 14, 2010. Id. ¶¶ 27-32 & Exs. M, N. Mr. Sicherman's illness was ultimately diagnosed as cancer, and variety of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical interventions were unavailing. He died on December 25, 2010. Id. ¶ 24.

The plaintiff alleges that it is Nationwide's policy not to contact insureds whose life insurance policies are in danger of lapsing, and that this policy was why Robinson did not contact Sicherman in the fall of 2010. Further, the plaintiff alleges that Nationwide's engages in a variety of practices designed to confuse insureds and beneficiaries in order "to avoid life insurance claims." These practices include the billing-error letters referred to in Exhibit U; cancellation of policies without notice; and failing to advise that ...

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