Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, L’Wren Scott, and Something Like Life Insurance
The “Shuffle Along” Case
Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D., J.D., c.p.c.u., Etc.
Law Firm of Michael Sean Quinn
1300 West Lynn Street, Suite 102
Austin, Texas 78703
Sometimes commercial musical (or analogous) performances run into trouble. When this arises, it usually happens because I star can’t come; a famous opera singer gets sick; the hand of a well-known cello player is broken by an angry lover; a world-renowned banjo player is incarcerated; the symphony-ballet conductor is arrested for murder; and so forth. Usually, it is the venue of sponsoring organization (e.g., West Texas Society of Early Baroque Ballet) that has insurance to cover ticket refunds, statistically fewer ticket sales; losses of various other kinds; expenses, lost profits, and so forth.
Now suppose a famous performance group takes out insurance on itself in case it has to cancel a concert. They may need this for a whole variety of reasons. The star gets sick; a drummer breaks an elbow; the setup crew members are all murdered; and so forth. Now suppose a group took out life insurance on a non member, for example. The member might have such strong feelings about their wives, mistresses, children, someone else’s children, or a dearly beloved head of a government that if any of them were to die, they could not go on with one or more concerts and would need to compensate the venue and the organization sponsoring the event.* And they might was business interruption insurance for themselves.
(*It would be strange for the venue or organization not to have their own coverage, and for the contract between the performers and them not to have a no-subrogation clause, but lots of things are possible. Then again, they might be something like an insured under the performance policy. They might, for example, be named an additional named insured entitled to recover if. . . . Or the organization might have a lien on amounts the insurer pays.)
In any case, roughly this arrangement was made by the Rolling Stones (and therefore Mick Jagger. The policy covered the deaths of some family members, and it looks like some others, if those deaths were “sudden and unforeseen”—the third word might as well have been “unexpected”—and apparently not caused by antecedent health conditions. These health conditions seem to have included mental health.
Perhaps most importantly it included Laura “Luann” Bambrough” aka L’Wren Scott, a fashion plate in several senses, the author of many “L’Wrenisms,” designer of many garments Mick wore on stage. She had been Mick’s girlfriend from 2001 or 2 on but died on March 17, 2014.
As a conceptual point, it is important to remember that Scott was not the insured. Mick, his buddies, and the Rolling Stones were the policyholders. It was not life insurance as to them. If it was life insurance, and it certainly was in some respects, they were beneficiaries. To the extent it was not life insurance, or if it was not solely life insurance, it was insurance of some sort—partially liability insurance and maybe partially not—pertaining to what the policyholders could and could not do as the result of something that happens to a person who is not an insured.
Of course, at least for a brief interval Scott’s death was not unforeseen by her, nor was it sudden, as to her. But that’s not the right point. (Also, if she was just fooling round, experimenting, as it were, then her death it would not be foreseen by or foreseeable to even her. The same might be true if she were stoned, as it were.)
What happened was that Jagger’s long-time girlfriend (since 2001, say some media sources) committed suicide by hanging herself in her luxury Chelsea, Manhattan apartment shortly before the Stones were to make a tour of New Zealand and Australia.
The band had the kind of insurance I just sketched. The policy limits were apparently $23.9M, and the Stones filed a claim for approximately $12.7M. The London insurers denied coverage no doubt on a whole variety of grounds. Chief among them, of course, was that her death was not unforeseen, not sudden, and was the result of preexisting mental health conditions about which “everyone knew.” The insureds under the policy—one issued by 12± insurers (what the British call underwriters)—sued in July 2014. Thereafter, the case moved pretty fast.
The insurer also had doubts about the need of the Stones to cancel the trip. Probably the insurer would lose this one since Mick, 71, was immediately diagnosed with a mental problem—anxiety perhaps, feelings of guilt maybe–which disabled him for performing the kinds of things for which he was famous. His doctor had diagnosed him with “acute traumatic stress disorder,” apparently aggravated by striking grief, as he more-or-less claimed. Significantly, part of Mick doc’s script was not to perform on stage for at least 30 days.
In cases like those of L’Wren’s death, suicide by hanging is usually sudden, although the decision as to whether to commit suicide may not be. So far as others are concerned, it is usually unforeseen and/or unexpected. In her case, the real issue will be her mental conditions for the considerable period of time leading up to her hanging herself.
There may have also been a “beyond her control” clause in the policy. I get this only from second-rate NY print media. I have not seen the policy, hard though I have tried to get it. It’s difficult for me to see how the insurers could lose this one. I don’t see how the insurers could lose this one, except for my She-was-merely-engaged-in-some-sort-of-dramatic-experiment idea.
In the fall of 2014, the insurers sought to take depositions of L’Wren’s family in Utah, where some of them lived and where she grew up. They also sought to take the deposition of, and no doubt obtain documents from her NYC assistant. She was, at the age of 49, after all an artistic fashion designer and former model. (Newspaper sources are full of pictures of her. Some wonder why a woman that elegant-looking would hang around with Sir Mick.)
At the same time and no doubt for related reasons, the insurers were interested in the fact that she had cancelled her participation at a fashion show in London not long before her death, and it was interested in her then-current financial position. All of these inquiries were well within the kinds of things it was reasonable for the insurers to ask about.
Before any of these depositions took place, and the insurers had obtained court orders to take such discovery, the case was settled. The media does not say what the amount of the settlement was.* One can bet that it was substantially lower than the $12.7M originally sought, since the settlement took place just before potentially damaging depositions. But then again, I could be quite wrong about this. (*The media reporting was in early November 2014)
Now for a completely speculative conjecture. The principal reason for having the oddball policy the Stones did was because of concern about the road toward suicide L’Wren was on and what the band knew would be the immediate consequences for the band’s leader. In a way this was, therefore, non-performance insurance the principal of peril being the suicide of L’Wren and the principal risk being Sir Mick’s short-time disabling. (Mick’s disability being another risk vis a vis the band’s having to pay contract damages to the sponsors of the various concerts, or subrogation damages to their insurers.) The trouble was that if anything like this conjecture is correct, and if there were lawyers involved in planning how to protect the band against the peril-risk, those lawyers were guilty of massive malpractice in terms of advice given, preparation therefore and transaction handled, unless the band itself, or its business agents consented to the arrangement, i.e., taking yet another risk, to wit: denial of coverage by the insurers. (Theoretically, I guess, there could be coverage even for that.)
For a few more details about the case, see my blog for February 12, 2115, with the partial title “Performance Insurance” found on QUINN’S COMMENTARIES ON LAWYERS AND LAWYERING. A Supplement: In the fall of 2016, the producers of the Broadway musical “Shuffle Along” sued Certain Underwriters at Lloyds for $12M after one of its stars, Audra McDonald, dropped out of the case since she was pregnant and unable to perform and the insurer refused coverage. There also appears to be a bad faith case built into this lawsuit; it is now pending in a New York state court.