LOS ANGELES -- A jury has ruled that two insurance companies must honor $200,000 in policies taken out by Freddie Prinze after concluding the comedian accidentally shot himself six years ago and did not commit suicide.
Jurors ruled 9-3 Tuesday that Crown Life Insurance Co. must pay Prinze's mother, Mary Preutzel, for a $50,000 life insurance policy Prinze obtained Feb. 19, 1975. It also concluded that Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. must honor a $150,000 policy naming Mrs. Preutzel the beneficiary that Prinze took out in August that year.
The jury, however, denied Mrs. Preutzel a $50,000 accidental death benefit from the Crown policy because of a clause that precludes paymment if drugs are involved either accidentally or intentionally in the death.
Jurors also ruled that Crown need not honor four subsequent policies, each for $100,000, that Prinze obtained in 1976. By then, they decided, Prinze was using drugs heavily and misrepresented to the insurance company that he was not.
Beneficiaries of those four policies were Mrs. Preutzel, Prinze's widow, Kathy, his son and two managers.
The jury decided that on the 1975 policies there was no deception about Prinze's use of drugs because at the time he was not a heavy drug user.
The coroner had concluded that Prinze's death on Jan. 28, 1977 was a suicide, but the family had contended the shooting was accidental because the 22-year-old actor was under the influence of drugs and may have thought the pistol's safety was engaged.
The star of the hit comedy series 'Chico and the Man,' was said to have been despondent over a separation from his wife and a pending misdemeanor drug charge when he put the pistol to his head.
In 1981 and 1982 the mother, widow and son agreed to accept about $1 million in settlement of their malpractice suits against Prinze's psychiatrist and doctor. Those suits claimed the doctors improperly allowed Prinze access to a gun and overprescribed Quaaludes, a powerful tranquilizer.