ANNAPOLIS – Beneficiaries of a Maryland woman’s life insurance policy may collect the proceeds after Maryland’s Court of Appeals agreed the woman’s death, which occurred after persuading a co-worker to shoot her with a shotgun, was not a suicide.
The court ruled the definition of suicide in an Allstate Life Insurance contract cannot be interpreted to include death by the hands of another, even though the insured woman wished her life taken.
The estate of Mary Gaye Fister may collect $1.3 million on three life insurance policies taken out by the woman.
“The accepted definition of suicide mandates that the decedent take his or her own life,” said the opinion written by Judge Lynne Battaglia.
The decision overruled the Court of Special Appeals, which concluded that although Fister did not pull the trigger, she did everything else to cause her own death.
The Court of Appeal’s opinion noted the danger of accepting an intent- based standard for suicide.
“If such reasoning were to stand, insurance companies, so as to avoid paying death benefits, could argue, with relative ease and minimal evidence, that the decedent was dissatisfied with his or her life . . . ,” said the opinion.
During the months before her death, Fister, an accountant, left several messages with friends and family conveying her suicide intention. She was drowning in gambling and consumer debt, and owed federal taxes totaling $1.2 million, according to the opinion.
Fister asked friends and a former boyfriend to either take her life or help her find someone to perform the task. She finally persuaded Lawrence Goldman to aid her in her death wish.
According to court records, the two drove to a secluded spot in Monrovia with a 12-gauge shotgun that Fister had purchased a few days earlier.
Attempting to make it look like a murder, Fister instructed Goldman to hold the gun while she pulled the trigger with a string. After several unsuccessful attempts, Fister begged Goldman to pull the trigger. Reluctantly he did, the opinion said. Goldman was charged with first-degree murder, and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, receiving five years in prison. – 30 – CNS-10-12-01