Widow waits 11 months for life insurance to be paid

If I ever doubted the power of the press, I had to be impressed by how quickly Empire Life reacted when I asked about Liudmila Corovcova’s claim. An 11-month wait for payment ended within a day.

Her husband, Sergei Corobcov, was killed while riding a scooter on a family holiday in Ukraine last June. The drunk driver who was responsible went to jail last February.

But Empire Life kept asking for paperwork to prove Sergei was legally dead. Its investigation dragged on.

I got a call this week from a life insurance broker, Sonia Gorchakova, who knew the widow and wanted to speed things up. The long delay had left the widow and her two sons in desperate financial straits, unable to return to Canada.

Sonia translated Liudmila’s plaintive letter (posted below) from Russian into English.

Talk about a quick turnaround. On Thursday, May 13, at 3.50 p.m., I got this email from Empire Life’s spokeswoman Laurie Swinton:

Hi Ellen. In response to your enquiry, since this case is still under review and no decision has been made yet, it would be inappropriate for us to provide a comment. Thanks.

On Friday, May 14, at 4.46 p.m., Corovcova’s lawyer got this response from Empire Life’s manager of individual claims Bev Rose:

We are pleased to advise that we have now completed our review of Mrs. Corobcov’s claim and are proceeding with settlement.

Sonia sent me an email late Friday afternoon: “It works! Thank you.”

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

8 thoughts on “Widow waits 11 months for life insurance to be paid”

  1. Tragic, sad, unreal ….

    My story began on June 6, 2009, when my beloved man, father of my children, husband for 20 years, was tragically killed. My Sergei and I experienced a lot together. The most difficult test for us was the fact that our first son Nicolai suffered from epilepsy.

    Sergei persuaded me to give birth to our second son Ivan. He explained his decision with the fact that Nicolai should have one closer relative except us, father and mother. I’m happy that I do have two sons who help me to go through this irreplaceable loss. I do not know how I would live longer if it was not for my children!

    These are not just words, this is my life now. I am told that life goes on, but this is a different life. Our life was divided into “before” and “after”.

    In May of 2003, we came to Canada as landed immigrants and professionals: my husband was a construction engineer and I was a rowing trainer. That year, our second son Ivan was born on December 22. He looked exactly like his father.

    In 2004, we bought a business. Sergei was working while I was a housewife, busy with children and managing the household.

    That same year, being responsible parents who think about their children’s future, we decided that we needed to get life insurance. This is normal for Canadians but in Ukraine, very few people are insured, because it is impossible to get claims paid by insurance companies.

    In Canada, it’s another world, where everything follows the law (as we thought). So we got insurance; the monthly fee for the policy is taken automatically from our bank account and we have no more worries.

    We were young, healthy and purposeful. When our younger son Ivan grew up a little, he started going to day care and I could go to ESL classes to learn English. We liked living in Canada. We were confident in our future, our life was calm and stable.

    In 2006, our older son Nicolai had surgery at Sick Kids Hospital and after that everything looked great! Thank God! Thank you Canada! Thank you surgeon (Dr. Ratke) for giving our son the chance for a second life.

    My husband and I could not believe in our good fortune. We could not be happier that our son didn’t cry because of pain and fear every day during the seizures. Only those who have sick children will understand our happy feelings.

    Nick is still on anticonvulsant therapy and needs to take his medication regularly, but this is trivial compared to what we experienced before his surgery.

    Our joy and satisfaction of the surgery results could not be clouded even by the fact that in 2007 we had to close our business. We did not know the peculiarities of the Canadian market and bought an unprofitable business.

    We decided to sell the house and buy a piece of land to build a new house. Sergei was an experienced engineer and wanted to build our own house. Since September 2007, we have lived in Burlington.

    In November 2007, we (Sergei, our son Nicolai and I) got Canadian citizenship! We were so proud! We received Canadian passports and could go to Ukraine to visit our relatives every summer.

    In May 2009, we went to Odessa city in Ukraine. Everything was fine: family, friends, sea …every day was a holiday! Sometimes I think that everything was too good to last long.

    June 6, 2009, was the most terrible day in my life. Sergei was riding a scooter coming home after visiting a friend. We were renting a house for the summer in Odessa.

    A drunk driver drove into the lane where Sergei was riding and the impact from the vehicle was so strong he died. He did not give Sergei a single chance to live.

    At the morgue, identifying my husband, I understood the meaning of the word “never”. He will never hug me, never talk to me. He will never be right beside me and the children.

    My older son Nicolai said: “I hate the God because he took our dad.” It frightens me to hear such horrible words from my boys, but they really miss their father.

    The first weeks after the tragedy were like a nightmare. One big, non-stop pain… nothing else. I thank God that we have relatives and friends who were around us at that terrible time.

    They did not let me and my children feel the loneliness and insecurity. They carried all the expenses associated with the funeral of my husband. Sergei was not cremated. He was buried with honors at Odessa cemetery.

    Our friends and family still help and support me and my children, both emotionally and financially.

    After my husband’s funeral, our friends collected and sent to Canada, to the insurance company, Empire Life, all the necessary documents. The company confirmed the receipt of the documents.

    But one month later, Empire Life requested Sergei’s Canadian or Russian passport. I went to Kiev to the Canadian embassy, where my husband’s passport was revoked based on the death certificate.

    I cried when I got back Sergei’s passport, he was so proud that he was a Canadian citizen. So then the Canadian passport was sent to the insurance company. We also informed the company that Sergei has never had a Russian passport.

    Sergei had two passports: Canadian and the Republic of Moldova. The Moldavian passport was withdrawn by the officials and based on it the death certificate was issued.

    The passport of a citizen of Moldova, who died in Ukraine, needed to be passed on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova in Ukraine and then the passport was sent to Kishinev (Moldova), whereafter the registration and documents are destroyed.

    All this I had to learn, because it has been almost a year since Empire Life required me to bring them the Moldovan passport of my deceased husband.

    All this time after the tragedy in our family, my children and I were in Odessa with our relatives. There was a trial of the convicted murderer of my husband. In February 2010, a sentence came into effect.

    And then, later in the month, a man came to Odessa. He introduced himself as my husband’s friend from Canada. He came with an interpreter to my family and said that he wanted to see his friend Sergei.

    My relatives were perplexed…what kind of friend was this if he did not know about Sergei’s death? I was also surprised and confused. I knew all the friends, eight Canadian citizens (our friends), who came to conduct the ceremonies for Sergei’s final journey.

    As it turned out, it was an investigator from the insurance company. The procedure that was arranged by Empire Life shocked me and everybody. Methods used in the investigation of Sergei’s death showed disrespect for the death and a mockery of human feelings.

    The investigator spent two weeks in Odessa. He visited the cemetery where Sergei was buried. With my full support, he had the opportunity to make copies of all the documents of a criminal case into the murder of my husband.

    I was the last person who met the Empire Life representative and the interrogation lasted for five hours. I insist on the term “interrogation”. The conversation was recorded on tape with my consent. The conversation took place in the presence of my lawyer in Odessa.

    From the moment this company representative came to Odessa, despite the strangeness of what was happening, I respected the requirements of a company representative, provided full cooperation to him in obtaining information and establishing a real picture of this tragic event.

    The questions and the manner of the conversation led me into shock, but I patiently and correctly answered the most bizarre questions — some of which did not seem relevant to the mater of the case at all.

    For example: “Why did you get married only two years after both of you met the first time?”

    For the full five hours, smoothly flowing conversation was often interrupted by questions asked by the investigator in a very sharp manner: “Was your husband a drunkard?” or “Was your husband addicted to drugs?” etc.

    My husband and I were former athletes, followed a healthy lifestyle, never smoked or drank alcohol and had two sons.

    When the Empire Life representative was leaving Odessa in February 2010, he promised to provide a report promptly to the insurance company. On March 30, 2010 I received a letter from the company about the fact that the investigation was still in process.

    My children and I cannot come back to Canada right now, because I have no money, no income. In Odessa, we live on full financial support from my parents’ income.

    To understand what was going on with Segei’s life insurance claim, I came to Canada in April 2010. I flew to Toronto for a personal meeting with the representative of Empire Life, but not even one person from the company wanted to have a meeting with me.

    The reason for the denial: Untranslated documents.

    Sergei and I had bought life insurance for ourselves in 2004. We were fully confident in the viability of the Canadian insurance system.

    The purpose of buying the insurance was to give an opportunity to the family to avoid experiencing financial difficulties for some time in case something happened to one of us.

    When this actually happened, it turned out that I, as a “widow” (even afraid to write this word) with two children, one of whom is sick and needs permanent qualified medical supervision, have to stand with outstretched hands and ask the insurance company for whatever we have to get according to the law.

    Sergei was our breadwinner and our pillar. But now he is not with us and we found ourselves are in a very difficult emotional and financial situation.

    I have to fight for the money! Why? Why I am being punished by Empire Life? Nobody knows the answers to my questions.

    I see this time delay from the company as distrustful and disrespectful to its customers.

    Why do you sell insurance? You want to get monthly payments from us, your customers, and when it’s your turn to fulfill the agreement, you do not want to pay.

    Moreover, you did not even bother to set up a meeting to explain the reasons for such a long investigation.

    I wrote a letter to the President of Empire Life, Ms. Leslie C. Herr. I got her reply: the letter she sent was about “nothing”. She knows how it is possible to write a letter and have nothing to say there.

    I understand that I’m just a widow with two children. But I am a mother! And I must do everything to ensure that the pain they experience because of their father’s loss has the least possible impact on my children. I and my children are citizens of Canada and we believe that the law is on our side in this country.

    I am writing to you, as I know you are a respected newspaper in Canada, with confidence that there is justice and the law in our country works! Please help me to sort out this situation.

    What is going on? It’s very painful and difficult. And it is even more painful because I have to endlessly prove that my Sergei is no longer with us and never will be. The truth is on my side, I have nothing to hide or fear. I’m only afraid to stop believing in the law and justice.

    I promised my children that we all will be fine. In July, we are coming back to Canada and I believe the future will be better.

    Thank you for having read my letter.


    Liudmila Сorovcova

    PS: I am still a customer of Empire Life. I will never advise to anyone to deal with this company. Empire Life discredited the entire insurance business in Canada, the idea and meaning of insurance.

  2. What a NIGHTMARE! I can’t believe that Empire Life would send a pinhead investigator overseas to harass (and that’s what he did) you for two weeks. Clearly, Empire Insurance is managed by a bunch of paranoid dimwits who have spent way too much time watching cheesy spy movies. Sheesh.

    And the utter audacity to sneakily pose as a family friend, then blindside you with a some really inappropriate, invasive questions, well, suffice to say, I am fuming on your behalf.

    I don’t know why you’re still a customer of Empire Life. I would give them the boot and take my business elsewhere.

    Finally, I am sorry for your loss. Condolences to you and your family.

  3. What a heartbreaking story. Mrs. Corovcova, I hope you will continue to live your Canadian dream with your sons by your side. My condolences to you and your family – you are a brave woman who deserves only the best. Ellen, how wonderful of you to help this woman.

  4. Empire Life are such bunch of crooks! Sending an investigator out posing as a friend because they thought it was all a hoax?! Thank you for bringing this story to us and I hope you and your family get the benefit that you are rightfully owed.

  5. Ludmila (and Ellen):

    My sincere condolences and best wishes for a future to you and your family. Monday would have been my husband’s 69th birthday and we went through insurance wars after his sudden death in 2001.

    It took 19 months and luck with 2 reps of Scotiabank to solve with Canada Life. It also helped that I had sent a letter to our M.P. about insurance companies (especially those with banks), which he had forwarded to then Finance Minister, Paul Martin.

    You might want to note your story and send to an MP for accountability. My hopes for you are to remember (your kids will) that you had the strength to get through this. You found the resources both internally and externally and have passed the MAJOR challenge.

    This reminds me of why I have tried to let Ellen handle major issues. I heard a VERY similar horror story this week. Just keep on them and best wishes in creating memories of your life with your kids. You will get through.
    Wendy R

  6. This is absolutely hideous. There is no other word. Why has Empire Life not apologized?

    Liudmila has my sympathy and my admiration- she has shown great courage by fighting for the needs of her children through grief that must be overwhelming.

    Thank God the life insurance I just got is NOT through Empire Life. I would have burned the contract after reading this.

  7. I feel very bad for your family. But you need to understand the point of the insurance company too.

    Just think of how many people are defrauding insurance companies. You have an overseas death where the passport was revoked based on the death certificate and documents destroyed. You also have documents that are not translated.

    Can you see why an investigator would have been sent?

    Readers are obviously blinded by this emotional and sad story, but understand that Empire Life is a reputable Canadian and family owned insurance company that pays millions of dollars of payouts every year.

  8. This story is strange and questionable. I just don’t like it. This letter is too long and full of happy Canada rhetoric, and it feels unrealistic.

    If this was a million dollar policy, I bet Empire would not have paid squat. Only because people have a public forum like Ellen Roseman is why you got paid. Empire gave you the benefit of the doubt.

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