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Sask. high court upholds decision to not pay insurance to estate of man who died of drug overdose

Val Jantzen is angry that two insurance companies continued to take premiums from her son while knowing that he was addicted to cocaine, and then denied coverage after he died of a cocaine overdose in 2018.

“They were well aware of his lifestyle, his addiction,” she said in an interview.

“They didn’t do anything about it. They just continued to take his premiums. They never addressed it. They didn’t put an addendum on his insurance policy.”

Val’s son Josh Jantzen had two policies, one for mortgage insurance and one for a line of credit, to ensure those debts would be paid out in the event of his death.

Val is also disappointed that judges at Court of King’s Bench and the Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal both sided with the insurers when she went to court to try and force the companies to pay.

The Court of Appeal decision was written by Justice Robert Leurer and published earlier this month.

Val is not the only one disappointed.

“I think it’s just another example of how we continue to criminalize substance use disorders in our country and around the world,” said Kayla DeMong, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction.

“We recognize the underlying issues that often push somebody into substance use disorder, but when it comes down to it we’re making moralistic judgments on a person and criminalizing what should be treated as a health issue.”

Josh, 37, was found dead in his home in Saskatoon on Feb. 1, 2018. The autopsy concluded that he had a fatal amount of alcohol and cocaine in his system.

Josh had struggled with addictions for at least a decade, according to his mother. He worked at a potash mine and had gone through rehab three times, but continued to relapse.

Val was quick to point out that her son was not completely defined by his addictions. He grew up in a middle-class Saskatoon home with three brothers. He played sports, rode motorcycles, and went hunting and fishing. Josh worked hard, paid his bills and had a serious relationship.

Josh was self-aware enough to seek help on his own and conscientious enough to not lie about his struggles when he got insurance, according to Val.

Woman with glasses
Kayla DeMong is executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon. (CBC)

The Court of Appeal ruled that “the insurers properly denied coverage because Mr. Jantzen died as a result of committing the crime of possession of the cocaine that he consumed.”

TD Life Insurance Company and Canada Life Assurance Company both declined interview requests.

Kevin Dorse, with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc., said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of this case.

“What we can say is that it is very common for life insurance policies sold in all parts of Canada to contain provisions that will exclude or limit payment of a claim where death occurs in specific circumstances,” he said in an email.

Lori Sandstrom, who teaches insurance law at the University of Saskatchewan, said insurance companies across the country will be well aware of this decision.

“I think this decision is important because it’s interpreting an exclusion clause in a policy, and insurers are always looking for how court is going to interpret an exclusion clause,” Sandstrom said.

“They’re looking at a sequence of events, so you can tell from both decisions that the court was looking to similar exclusion clauses and other policies in different factual situations and applying it here … so you could see that interpretations, if persuasive, are relied upon across Canada.”

Sandstrom is also disappointed with how addictions are criminalized — and the broader implications of the Court of Appeal ruling.

“Because as a society we have chosen not to decriminalize possession for personal use, despite it being an addiction, I think this interpretation may have quite broad implications,” she said.

“We have a lot of people, I think, struggling with addictions, and now because of the interpretation that courts have given, exclusion clauses such as this, they may face forfeiting their insurance as a result of an addiction.”

DeMong said that Josh and his family are being punished for something that doesn’t warrant punishment.

“They’re happy to take his money. They’re happy to take his premiums. They’re happy to work with him as long as they’re financially gaining from this situation,” she said.

“And the moment that they have to pay that out and live up to their end of the agreement, it becomes, again, this bad versus good situation, and they’ve deemed it bad.”

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