In early April 2020, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy Shannon Bennett was the first South Florida first responder to be killed by COVID-19. After his tragic death, his family made a claim to the AIG insurance company for a benefit that he was provided by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for an accidental death in the line of duty. AIG has denied that claim. This certainly makes a tragic situation even more difficult for Bennett’s family.
The letter that Bennett’s family received from AIG stated that the company had reviewed the claim and determined that COVID-19 did not fall under the category of an injury or accident, but “rather, his death was caused in whole or in part by, or resulted in whole or in part from sickness or disease, specifically excluded under this policy.” The BSO submitted an appeal to AIG on the family’s behalf, but just a couple of weeks later, the claim was denied a second time. The insurance company stated that while Florida statutes do classify certain health conditions as “accidental and caused by employment” that definition does not technically include COVID-19.
Bennett’s brother stated that it’s not about the money anymore and “you can’t put a price tag on Shannon’s life.” He just wants others to know what’s going on.
“For us, it’s about awareness,” he said. “We want to make sure that any other agency that is partnering with AIG would potentially completely dismantle their relationship.”
The Broward County Sheriff released the following statement:
“One of the most difficult tragedies to endure in this profession is a line of duty death. We are committed to helping the Bennett family. We pay thousands of dollars each year for this insurance, and I’m extremely disappointed that AIG is denying this claim. We will exhaust all appeals. I have directed my command staff to review our contract with AIG. We hope as we have further dialogue with AIG, they recognize the global impact in [the] message that they are sending to our first responders.”
The determination of whether AIG has properly denied the benefits would likely lie in the definitions and exclusions in the policy language, the language of the appropriate Florida Statute, and whether his family can definitively prove that he contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.
Michael Cotzen of Cotzen Law has handled many cases against insurance companies over the last twenty years, most involving the insurer’s decision to refuse to pay benefits.