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Case arguing against an insurance company’s denial of life insurance coverage for the spouse of a man living with HIV


When an HIV-negative woman in the San Francisco Bay Area was denied life insurance because her husband was HIV-positive, Lambda Legal and a cooperating law firm filed a discrimination suit in federal court against the insurer, Chubb Sovereign Insurance. The lawsuit argued that insurance policies are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including HIV, and that there was no sound actuarial principle on which to exclude the woman from taking out a policy. After the trial judge ruled that insurance underwriting practices are indeed covered by the ADA, the lawsuit was resolved the following year. Though the terms of the settlement are confidential, the parties agreed to the release of a statement that: “In light of the ADA, applicants for life insurance should not be denied an insurance policy because of their association with a disabled person, including someone who is HIV-positive.”


At the time of this lawsuit, the ADA’s applicability to insurers remained in dispute.

Lambda Legal’s Impact

At a time when the scope of the ADA was in question, Lambda Legal obtained a ruling that the law applies to insurance practices. This case was one of the first to establish that insurers could not deny life insurance coverage based on the HIV status of a spouse.

    • April 1996 Lambda Legal files suit against Chubb.
    • November 1996 The federal trial judge rules that the ADA applies to insurance underwriting practices.
    • December 1997 Lambda Legal achieves a settlement for Jane and John Doe.