(CN) – A mother whose son was murdered by a contract killer should not have had his life insurance proceeds taken by her husband’s ex-wife, a New York appeals court ruled.
Alice Sweetman’s son was killed by an assassin hired by his ex-wife. Sweetman put her son’s insurance funds in the bank to benefit his daughter.
When she traveled to Texas to testify at her former daughter-in-law’s murder trial, she feared retaliation. So she added her husband, John Suhr, to the bank account to protect the funds in case something happened to her.
However, John still owed his ex-wife, Sonja Suhr, money on a 1995 child-support judgment. The Monroe County Office of Child Support Enforcement discovered the bank account and removed the money to satisfy the judgment.
Sweetman sued Sonja Suhr to recover these funds. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, but the Rochester-based New York Appellate Division’s Fourth Department reversed the decision in an unsigned opinion Friday.
“The evidence at trial establishes that defendant possesses funds that were obtained from plaintiff’s bank account to satisfy John’s debt,” the justices wrote. “The record further establishes, however, that John neither provided nor owned any of the funds in the account.”
The justices noted that Sweetman only put her husband on the account in case of a disaster.
“It is clear from plaintiff’s actions that she did not intend to grant John a present personal interest in its funds,” they wrote. “Thus, the funds in the account belonged solely to plaintiff.”
The justices added that the presumption of bank account ownership in New York law does not apply here, a point they made in the first appeal of the case.
“That ruling is the law of the case, and the court therefore erred in dismissing the complaint based on the very statutory presumption that we held inapplicable in the prior appeal,” they wrote.
The appeals entered a judgment in Sweetman’s favor in the amount of $58,814.
Sweetman’s attorney, David Tennant of Nixon Peabody, said in an emailed statement, “We are gratified by the court’s decision which appropriately recognized the extraordinarily tragic circumstances befalling Alice Sweetman, and granted her full relief.”
Sonja Suhr’s attorney did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.