One cannot benefit from one’s crime. Even in this most basic form, this statement is unlikely to cause shock to many. Generally, in the Estate world this means that where a person is the beneficiary of an Estate, but is the cause of the death of the Deceased, they are not permitted to inherit from the Estate. The very commonplace nature of my above ramblings is the reason you should read this article.
The Ontario Court of Appeal was recently asked to consider a nuance of this particular issue, and rendered its decision in the Dinghra v. Dinghra Estate 2012 ONCA 261 on April 24, 2012. The decision notes that Mr. Dinghra took out a group life insurance policy in 1998. He was the beneficiary of the policy on his wife’s life. He later killed his wife in 2006, but, in 2008, was found not criminally responsible for her death (Criminal Code, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46, s. 16). In 2007, a claim was made by the Respondent, the Estate Trustee of the wife’s Estate, who submitted to the insurer an Accidental Death Claim, claiming the proceeds of the insurance policy on behalf of the Applicant/Appellant, Mr. Dinghra. Payment was not immediately made, and after the criminal trial, the Respondent requested that the proceeds of the insurance policy be paid to the Estate. In response, the insurer brought an application to have the funds paid into Court, which relief was granted in 2009. Thereafter, the Applicant made an Application to the Superior Court of Justice to have the proceeds paid to him.
The lower court found that the public policy rule that ‘one cannot benefit from one’s crime’ was not limited to intentional killing, on the basis of the trial judge’s interpretation of the decision in Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Board v. Young (1985), 49 O.R. (2d) 78. The lower court judge found that the Applicant committed ‘second-degree murder’ as he physically committed the crime, even though he was found not criminally responsible. This rationale lead to a finding that the Applicant was not entitled to the proceeds of the life insurance policy.
On appeal, the Appellant submitted that he was entitled to the funds, and that even if he wasn’t, the Estate had no claim as the Estate was not a named beneficiary of the policy. The Respondent agreed that the Estate was not entitled to the proceeds. Upon consideration, the Court of Appeal found that pursuant to the rule of public policy, a party found not criminally responsible, is not prevented from taking under an insurance policy. The Court then considered whether the rule had been varied because of the Civil Remedies Act, an issue which the Court of Appeal referred to as ‘novel’. The Court of Appeal disposed of the matter by setting aside the order of the lower court and granted that the insurance proceeds held by the Accountant of the Superior Court of Justice (along with interest) were rightfully payable to the Appellant. Interestingly, the Order was stayed for 30 days, allowing the Attorney General time to consider whether he wishes to apply for an interlocutory order under s. 4 of the Civil Remedies Act.
Professor Erik Knutsen of Queen’s University, an insurance law specialist, was quoted in the above noted article, saying “the court has stated that you need criminal intent before you can deny someone an insurance benefit on public policy grounds”. Although it may be that this issue isn’t seen often in the Estate context, and even here it was generally accepted that the Estate did not have an interest, it is not without possibility that we may see more claims given the new clarity in the law.
There are still a few weeks before the stay on the order of the Court of Appeal is lifted. Perhaps this isn’t the last of this case. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Thanks for Reading,
Nadia M. Harasymowycz - Click here for more information on Nadia Harasymowycz.
 I direct you to the text of the Court of Appeal decision for further exploration of this issue