Dead Peasants Insurance

John Lanchester:

“Dead peasants insurance” is a term that sounds as if it comes straight out of Monty Python. If only that were true. Here’s an example of what it means: in 1999, Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart, collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. He died a week later, and an insurance company paid out $300,000 for the loss of his life.
So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn’t Rice’s family, who didn’t get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall. And that’s dead peasants insurance, or, as it is also known, “janitors insurance”. They are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or “stranger originated life insurance” – in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.