Civil Procedure

Unhappy Appeals Court Won't Undo Deal Giving Late-Convicted Murderer $200K from Victim's Insurance

The daughter of a murder victim can’t overturn a settlement she reached with her stepfather over life insurance proceeds even though he was later convicted in the slaying, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled.

The 2006 settlement gave Tia Gentry $500,000 and her stepfather, Dale Larkin, $203,000, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. At the time, Gentry, her father and her guardian ad litem had suspected Larkin was responsible for the death of Gentry’s mother, Teresa “Teri” Larkin, though he had not been charged, the appeals court said.

The News Sentinel provides the background on the dispute. Local police were not notified when Teri Larkin was found dead in the bathtub in 2003, and a full autopsy was not conducted. Gentry’s father nonetheless filed a wrongful death suit against Dale Larkin on his daughter’s behalf, contending he wasn’t entitled to the insurance proceeds under state law that bars murderers from profiting from their crimes. The settlement resolved the lawsuit.

Dale Larkin wasn’t charged until after authorities exhumed Teri Larkin’s body and found 21 injuries, including a broken sternum and twisting bone breaks to her arms. He was convicted in 2011. Gentry then filed suit to overturn the settlement, claiming she was defrauded by Dale Larkin’s claims of innocence.

The appeals court ruled against Gentry on two grounds. First, it found her suit was barred by the statute of limitations. “Erring on the side of caution,” the court went on to address a second issue—whether Gentry was fraudulently induced by her stepfather in the settlement. The court said Gentry never did rely on her stepfather’s claims of innocence and she is bound by the deal.

“We are aware that our decision may appear inequitable given the results,” the court said in its opinion. “This court is not happy with the results of our decision. We, however, are not free to decide cases based upon our personal preferences but instead must decide them based upon the law. … Without high thresholds for attempts to overturn final judgments, our judicial system would collapse under the weight of perpetual re-attempts.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.