Daily Decisions: “Slayer Rule” Does not Apply to Self-Defense

“Marni Rice and Michele Parrott were in a committed relationship” — until the two had an argument and Parrott wound up dead. Plaintiff Robin Parrot-Horjes then sued individually and on behalf of Parrott’s estate seeking (a) damages for wrongful death and (b) to prevent Rice from taking money from Parrott’s life insurance policy under the common law “slayer rule.”

In Robin Parrott-Horjes v. Marni G. Rice (Division 1, May 21, 2012), the Court of Appeals refused to apply the slayer rule because, at trial, the jury found Rice acted in self-defense. The “slayer rule prevents a killer from recovering the victim’s life insurance benefits.” Washington has adopted this principle in cases where the killing is “willful and unlawful.” “But a death as a result of self-defense is neither felonious nor unlawful.” Accordingly, despite the slayer rule, Rice was permitted to recover.

Plaintiff argued, however, that even if Rice were permitted to recover under the policies, the policy payments should be held by Rice in constructive trust for the benefit of Parrott’s children. The Court of Appeals disagreed. “Parrott designated Rice as the beneficiary under a life insurance policy through her employment with the [US] Postal Service, a group policy issued . . . pursuant to the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA).” Under federal law, the terms of a FEGLIA policy regarding coverage or benefits preempt state law to the extent inconsistent with the terms of the policy. Therefore, a state law claim of constructive trust cannot interfere with the plain terms of the policy, which provided payment to Rice.

Plaintiff also sought to upset the jury’s finding of self-defense. But the Court of Appeals declined to “reassess the credibility of the testimony and other evidence.” “It is the jury, not the court, that is charged with assessing the facts.” The evidence was sufficient to support the verdict.

Lastly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit evidence of Parrot’s prior acts of domestic violence. Such evidence was admissible, not to show action in conformity therewith, but to show that Rice’s fear of injury was reasonable. The trial court properly gave a limiting instruction that the evidence was only for Rice’s state of mind.

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One thought on “Daily Decisions: “Slayer Rule” Does not Apply to Self-Defense

  1. Pingback: The [No Specific Day] Mash-up: June 1, 2012 | Ziff Blog

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