Insurer sued over Heath Ledger's $10 million policy

By: CNN
By: CNN

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A trustee for Heath Ledger's daughter has sued an insurance company over a $10 million policy the actor took out seven months before his death in January from a drug overdose.

Heath Ledger took out the $10 million policy in June 2007; he died in January.

John S. Laviolette, a Los Angeles entertainment industry attorney whom Ledger appointed custodian of the policy, alleges in the lawsuit that ReliaStar Life Insurance Co. is trying to avoid paying on the policy by continuing to investigate whether Ledger's death was a suicide.

Under provisions of the policy, the company would not have to pay if Ledger committed suicide.

The New York medical examiner ruled Ledger's January 22 death an accidental overdose of six prescription drugs.

ReliaStar says in legal papers that it has the right to investigate all aspects surrounding Ledger's death "to determine if the 'Suicide' provision is applicable." If Ledger committed suicide, ReliaStar says, "we will pay only the amount of premiums paid to us."

The outcome is pending, a company spokesman said Monday.

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"We have not rendered a decision on this case yet," said Dana Ripley, a senior vice president for ING Americas, which is ReliaStar's parent company.

Ripley declined further comment.

Laviolette's attorney, Bill Shernoff, said Monday that ReliaStar is just "looking for any possible loophole."

"This information they want now, they should have done that before they issued the policy," Shernoff said. "They want to have this lengthy investigation to drag this out. We think it's a fishing expedition."

ReliaStar has asked Laviolette to identify all doctors and hospitals or institutions that had treated Ledger since November 16, 1996. The policy was taken out in June 2007.

The money from the policy is supposed to go to Ledger's 3-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose.

The company, Laviolette says in the suit, "acted maliciously, fraudulently and/or oppressively with the intention of depriving plaintiff of the insurance policy benefits."

ReliaStar replied in court papers that "any and all actions taken by ReliaStar were fair and reasonable and were performed in good faith based on all relevant facts known to it at the time."

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in July, has been moved to U.S. District Court.

Ledger died at age 28 in New York . He is best known for starring in "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, and his portrayal of the Joker in this year's "The Dark Knight," which was released after his death.

Matilda Rose's mother is actress Michelle Williams, whom Ledger met on the set of "Brokeback Mountain."

News of the lawsuit broke on the Web site tmz.com, which posted a copy of the suit.


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