September 29, 2008 / 9:32 PM / 10 years ago

Ledger's insurance firm sued over nonpayment

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Heath Ledger’s insurance company has been sued in Los Angeles for not paying out $10 million in benefits to his daughter, claiming the actor may have committed suicide, according to court papers.

Actor Heath Ledger arrives at the premiere of the film "Candy" in New York in this November 6, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files

The 28-year-old Australian star of “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Dark Knight” was found dead in his New York apartment in January in what officials ruled was an accidental death from an overdose of painkillers and other medicines.

But lawyers for the ReliaStar insurance company, where Ledger took out a life insurance policy in 2007, have claimed his death was suspicious and possibly a suicide. That would nullify the policy, said the court papers posted on celebrity website

Ledger’s daughter with actress Michelle Williams, Matilda Rose, 3, was named as the beneficiary in the policy, insurance specialist lawyer William Shernoff said on Monday.

“ReliaStar want to investigate the possibility of suicide, and we think that is inappropriate because the coroner’s report and all the official reports say it was accidental,” said Shernoff, who filed the suit on behalf of Ledger’s daughter in July.

“It is distressing for everybody. The insurance company wants to spend months, if not years, investigating this so they can hold on to their money,” Shernoff told Reuters.

He added that ReliaStar told him they wished to take legal statements from the masseuse who found Ledger’s body, his colleagues, agents, doctors and actress Mary-Kate Olsen, Ledger’s friend and the first person called by the masseuse.

A ReliaStar spokesman said the company was still investigating the claim on the policy and had not yet made a decision.

The company said in court filings it was entitled to investigate because Ledger died within two years of taking out the policy, and accused the other side of failing to cooperate.

News of the legal dispute came after Ledger’s father told Australia’s Sunday Times that the actor’s estate, with an estimated value of $20 million Australian (US $16 million), would go to his daughter. The disputed life insurance benefit is not included in Ledger’s estate and will.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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