It used to be so simple: People fell in love and got married. Now, with big settlements involved when serious and catastrophic injuries have been sustained, families need to be wary of marriage predators.
The claimant in a recent case, Kevin Hunt, suffered brain injuries in a tragic ATV accident in 2011 and was determined to have sustained catastrophic impairment. A former girlfriend, Kathleen Worrod, suddenly appeared and whisked him away, successfully marrying Hunt. This incident occurred in Ontario, Canada, where the entitlements under the automobile policy allow for significant benefit limits beyond $1,000,000. Local police located Hunt in a motel room several hours after the wedding. His family was unaware of the marriage until after it had taken place.
In an effort to protect Hunt, the family launched an action in Superior Court in Ontario to have the marriage dissolved. A decision was reached recently, after several years of motions and actions. Although Hunt provided evidence at the trial, his condition leaves him unable to recall and understand the ramifications of the marriage and dispute.
There had been a history of alcohol abuse between the parties, police involvement, and a clear dissolution of the relationship prior to the ATV accident. This historical information and evidence became pivotal in the trial to declare the marriage void. Medical experts made it clear that Hunt did not have the “capacity” to marry.
Superior Court Justice Edward J. Koke declared the marriage void. The decision is being touted as the new protection for all claimants when they may be compromised and a “predator” successfully marries them under suspicious circumstances. The decision to void the marriage is notable because the Ontario Marriage Act allows almost anyone who is not “under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs or any other reason” to marry. The rules are loose, leaving little to stop vulnerable people, often the elderly with dementia, from being pressured to marry.
The result of this automobile insurance case may have broader impact for suspicious marriages across the Province of Ontario. Many feel the decision will offer more protections for claimants, insurers, the elderly and their families.
Laurie Walker, CIP, CRM, SVP, Director of Operations, Canada
Jennifer Rennie, BA, CIP, Senior Adjuster, Vericlaim Canada