A New York and New Jersey Lawyer Who Represents Policyholders and Beneficiaries in Life Insurance Denial Cases

I’m always on the lookout for good book recommendations. If you haven’t already, I suggest you pick up a copy of Justice by Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University. He’s a renowned political philosopher with a communitarian bent, and the book emerged from his extremely popular undergraduate course at Harvard of the same name.

Justice provides an accessible overview of the theories of social and political philosophers such as Aristotle and Kant whom you may have studied in your undergraduate days, but if you’re like me, only hazily recall, applying them to current phenomena ranging from wealth inequality to affirmative action to abortion.

A recent article in The Daily Princetonian reports on a talk that Professor Sandel gave at Princeton University that touched upon — you guessed it — the subject of life insurance, focusing on it in the wider context of how some financial investment and activity can have the effect of devaluing the importance of human life.

He gives examples of how some life insurance arrangements amount to wagering on life. For instance, Walmart took out a $300,000 life insurance policy on a janitor it employed, without his knowledge, and the result was that the janitor was worth more dead than alive to the company. Of note, these arrangements, Professor Sandel pointed out, do not exactly promote workplace safety. Are they moral? Should companies make money off line employees when they die? How about when their families may receive nothing?

Another example is that in recent years, it has been common for investors to purchase life insurance policies from individuals who have a high mortality risk for immediate cash payments. (I have blogged about the life-settlement industry in previous posts). Professor Sandel notes how these arrangements directly link profit with death. If the insured dies, the investor makes a handsome profit. Of course, investors argue that these are not coerced transactions and they are providing a financial benefit to a person in her final days. Even assuming that is true, and it is a point that can be challenged because the transactions often occur when the insured is in a desperate state and may be without funds to pay for health care, the question arises about whether they are good for society? What moral values do they promote?

While life insurance certainly plays an important role in society of protecting the welfare of individuals and families when a loved one dies, there is a darker aspect to it that has come to fruition. As Sandel suggests, we should think about how these arrangements impact our social fabric. ““Would you want to make a living betting that people will die sooner rather than later?” he asked the audience.

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