The family of a man killed by an undiagnosed brain tumour are fighting to be paid the life insurance he built up over 17 years.

David Dishington was killed by a seizure, brought on by the tumour.

He had stopped paying his insurance premiums to AMP, which says it will not pay out to wife Sue and the couple's three children.

But in an unusual case, Dishington's family are arguing his failure to continue contributing to his insurance was a direct result of the tumour that claimed his life.

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Insurance litigator Andrew Hooker has taken on the case for free, saying while refusing to pay out on a lapsed policy legal, Dishington was "a dead man walking" and the insurer should show some compassion.

"The very thing that led to him not paying the premium was what killed him."

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Over 17 years the Christchurch accountant had spent an estimated $70,000 on life insurance and income protection policies with AMP.

Sue said her husband wasn't one to share his problems, but she trusted his decisions "absolutely".

"He was my rock," she said. "He was very, very reliable. I trusted him with my life and that of the kids."

But in 2010 Dishngton began acting strangely. He forgot how to cook, failed to pick up his children, stopped paying his bills and neglected his work.

In financial strife, the family sold their house at a loss and started renting.

A doctor diagnosed depression - common enough following the Christchurch earthquakes.

Sue, who was also battling depression, took some time apart from her husband hoping it might help him work through his issues. In fact, "he was actually slipping away from all of us."

Accountant David Dishington was his wife Sue's
Accountant David Dishington was his wife Sue's "rock". She left all the financial details to him - including insurance. Photo / Martin Hunter

He stopped paying his life insurance premiums in January 2013.

By April, after sending warning notices, AMP cancelled the policy. Sue claimed nobody ever told her about the missed payments or the policy cancellation, though the company disputes that.

Five months later, on September 10, Dishington didn't pick up his son from school. That night he was found dead, aged 49, on the bathroom floor in his office.

"I felt like David was speaking to me from the grave...All the behaviours, all the changes in him that had been happening over the last three to four years were because of a brain tumour"

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Doctors said he had died of a seizure caused by a tumour lurking in his brain, and it had probably affected his behaviour.

"I felt like David was speaking to me from the grave," Sue said. "All the behaviours, all the changes in him that had been happening over the last three to four years were because of a brain tumour," she said.

"I realised at that point how cruel it had been that when my husband was dying I didn't know."

David Dishington in happier times with his three children. Photo / Martin Hunter
David Dishington in happier times with his three children. Photo / Martin Hunter

When Sue came to claim the $790,000 life insurance payout, she was told the policy was cancelled.

A review by a highly-regarded oncologist found it was very likely David's tumour had been resident for several years, affecting his personality and emotional state as well as his memory and ability to solve problems.

Sue has fought AMP for four years and is now hoping to take the case to court with Hooker's help.

"There's no dispute that [David] suffered the brain tumour during the policy, and it's almost beyond dispute that that's why he wasn't paying," Hooker said. "If he turned up to AMP and made the claim before he died, they would have paid out. But he didn't."

Lawyer Andrew Hooker has accused AMP of
Lawyer Andrew Hooker has accused AMP of "opportunistic profitmaking" over the Dishingtons' case. File photo / Greg Bowker

AMP said Dishington's long-time advisor had made "significant efforts" to convince him to continue his payments.

"We work hard to keep policies in place for our customers, but we have to respect the decisions of individuals to cease their cover. David chose to lapse his policies and we honoured this."

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AMP had tried to work constructively and sympathetically with Sue, a company spokesman said.

"While we empathise with the tragic and regrettable situation, we regard this matter as having been thoroughly assessed and appropriately handled."

Sue said she had all but given up, until a similar case came to light - that of Andrew Porteous.

Andrew Porteous spent the last months of his life arguing AMP should pay out for his insurance policy, even though it lapsed before his cancer was diagnosed. Photo / Givealittle
Andrew Porteous spent the last months of his life arguing AMP should pay out for his insurance policy, even though it lapsed before his cancer was diagnosed. Photo / Givealittle

The 34-year-old father of two died of cancer in February after fighting for months to get AMP to pay out his life insurance.

He was insured through his job, but by the time the cancer was diagnosed he had been made redundant and the policy had lapsed.

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Barrister Sandra Grant filed proceedings in the High Court in February on behalf of the Porteous family, arguing Porteous was still covered because his cancer had set in before the policy ended.

Sue Dishington said Porteous' case had given her hope, and she would continue to fight for justice.

"I can never provide for our children the life that David and I wished for them. The last four years have been extremely sad, and battling AMP has just added to the pain."