Court finds evidence to support slayer statute claim

In RELIASTAR LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY v. MILLENI, Civil Action No. 4: 17-CV-02818 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 11, 2019). The United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division presided over an interpleader lawsuit filed by Reliastar Life Insurance Company ("Reliastar"), the provider of the Decedent's life insurance policy, based on allegations that the Decedent’s husband was connected to her death and thus precluded under the Texas Slayer Statute from receiving the insurance policy proceeds. The court noted in ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendant that the Statute does not require direct evidence of a beneficiary caused the decedent’s death, rather indirect evidence is enough. Under TEX. INS. CODE ANN. § 1103.151, a beneficiary of a life insurance policy forfeits his/her interest if he/she is a principal or an accomplice in bringing about the insured’s death

Tuyet Tran’s ("Tuyet") marriage was marked by years of violence and intimidation at the hands of her husband and Trang Vu ("Vu"). As noted by the court Tuyet experienced years of physical and verbal abuse that occurred in the home and public. Evidence presented at trial indicated that the Vu brazenly admitted on camera to the abuse and lamented “that one of his mistakes was "taking care of my business [abusing his wife]" in front of witnesses.” These incidents of abuse led to divorce proceedings, police intervention, and TDFPS taking custody of the couple’s minor children.

Eventually, Tuyet separated from Vu and sought a restraining order. On July 20, 2015, a caseworker at TDFPS contacted both Vu and Tuyet to set up interviews. Tuyet agreed to meet with her at her salon the following day, July 21st. Vu met with Armstrong at 3:00 p.m. that same day, July 20th. The meeting ended with Vu leaving angry and upset.

According to evidence at trial, “Vu left that meeting, went home, and then went to Tuyet's salon — allegedly arriving at 6:00 p.m. When he arrived, there were several students and instructors who used the salon for cosmetology instruction.  After the students left, Vu claims an unidentified African American male walked into the salon and then left without saying a word. Vu then went to his car, where he kept a gun and small ax, retrieved his gun, and then returned to help those remaining at the salon close for the night. Eventually, only Vu and Tuyet were left in the salon. Vu claims he stayed about fifteen minutes and then left. He states at the time he left he saw the same African American male along with others lingering in the parking lot. Vu claims he left to buy Tuyet flowers, but he admits he arrived home much later and without flowers.

Tuyet died of blunt force trauma to the head from an object like the ax owned by Vu.  She was found dead the next morning in her salon. Vu was by his admission the last person known to have seen her alive.  

Considering the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, Reliastar filed an interpleader lawsuit to determine the rightful beneficiary of the proceeds of Tuyet’s life insurance policy based on the allegation that Vu was suspected of murdering the Decedent. Under the Texas slayer law which if true would disqualify him from receiving the insurance policy proceeds. Vu was not prosecuted criminally for Tuyet's death. As such, Reliastar requested the court determine whether Trang Vu "Vu," the Decedent's husband and the primary beneficiary or P.T. and D.T., the Decedent's children and contingent beneficiaries, are entitled to the proceeds.

In deciding the question of whether the slayer statute would apply the court noted that direct evidence was not direct evidence that a beneficiary caused the decedent death is not required to disqualify a beneficiary. As the court noted, “In fact, circumstantial evidence can be the sole basis for a judgment that a potential beneficiary killed the insured and consequently is not entitled to life insurance proceeds.”  Considering the evidence on the record, the court found issues of material fact regarding whether Vu was the “perpetrator of Tuyet’s death.”