Decision in Curley case is upheld
Insurance firm had no reason to suspect Joann Curley in Robert’s death, court rules.
Last Modified: April 19. 2013 12:04PM
WILKES-BARRE – The state Superior Court has upheld a ruling by a Luzerne County judge who found an insurance company was not negligent when it paid Robert Curley’s life insurance benefits to his wife, Joann, who was later convicted of killing him.
The court said evidence presented at a non-jury trial before Judge William Amesbury clearly established that People’s Life Insurance Company had no reason to suspect Joann Curley might be responsible for Robert’s death when it paid her the $100,000 policy in June 1992.
Joann Curley pleaded guilty in July 1997 to third-degree murder after admitting she laced Robert’s iced tea with rat poison, leading to his death on Sept. 27, 1991. She is serving a 10- to 20-year prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.
Mary Curley, Robert’s mother, filed suit against the insurance company in 1998, alleging it was negligent for failing to conduct an adequate investigation into the death. The suit also alleged the company should have paid the funds into an account held by the courts.
Amesbury ruled in favor of the insurer following a two-day trial in August 2010. Mary Curley’s attorney, Michael Mey, asked the judge to reconsider, but he denied the request.
In upholding Amesbury’s ruling, the Superior Court rejected Mey’s argument that a more thorough investigation by the company would have revealed Joann Curley’s role in her husband’s death.
The court noted the insurance company did retain a firm, which conducted an investigation and determined Joann Curley was not a suspect. Law enforcement officials also announced on June 2, 1992 that she was not a suspect.
Suspicions about Robert’s death did not surface until 1996, when authorities reopened the investigation and exhumed Robert’s body.
“Evidence established that when the company paid life insurance benefits to Joann Curley, they had no notice that Joann Curley had killed, or was even suspected of killing, her husband,” the court said.
The court also said the insurance firm had no obligation to pay the funds into an escrow account because, at the time the insurance claim was made, there was no dispute over who should get the money.
Mey did not return a phone message Friday regarding whether he will seek to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.