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Survivors of Suicide Victims Say They Are Also Victimized by Insurance Laws

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RALEIGH — When someone commits suicide, it is hard enough for the family to cope emotionally. But to add insult to the tragedy, many companies refuse to pay life insurance benefits to survivors.

In most states, including North Carolina, if your life insurance policy is less than two years old, the company will not pay in the event of a suicide.

Family members of suicide victims say the act is caused by an illness, and should not be discriminated against under the law.

"My husband died three years ago from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after after being diagnosed with clinical depression," says Lila Meeks.

Less than two years before the suicide, Meeks' husband, Buster, signed a new life insurance policy when his law firm decided to change companies.

Meeks should have been paid $340,000 when her husband died. Instead, she got just $4,000 because the policy was not yet two years old.

"You think you've made arrangements for your family, but there's this trick in the policy that you're not aware of," says Meeks.

"I think very few of us, including me, is aware of everything that's in our life insurance policy," says Tom Jacks, deputy commissioner for the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

Jacks says the law is intended to protect companies from fraud.

"People sometimes do purchase life insurance with the intent of ending their life, but making sure their beneficiaries are taken care of after they die," says Jacks.

Meeks disagrees. She believes suicide is caused by depression, which the victim has no control over.

"People die not because they choose to die, but because their brains are diseased," she says.

Meeks would like to see this law changed in every state, but insurance officials in North Carolina say it is not likely to happen anytime soon.

The Department of Insurance says it is important to make sure you read the fine print in your insurance policy. Not doing so can result in major financial consequences for your family. Suicide Statistics:
  • Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the nation; homicide ranks 13.
  • More than 30,000 people people committed suicide in 1997
  • 83 people in the U.S.take their own life every day.
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    Amanda Lamb, Reporter
    Joe Frieda, Photographer
    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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