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United of Omaha claims policy wasn't valid

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- A day after a judge ruled in favor of the
late Dale Earnhardt's car owner in a trial pitting the racing team
against an insurance company, the jury heard Tuesday from the
insurance agent who sold the $3.7 million policy.

Insurance agent Knox Hillman, of Concord, testified he was
contacted by Bill Patterson, executive vice president of Richard
Childress Racing, about obtaining more coverage on the driver.

"He indicated a new contract was coming and he needed some life
insurance to secure certain requirements of the contract," Hillman
said.

At Patterson's direction, Hillman said he obtained several
proposals before narrowing them down to two, including one from
defendant United of Omaha Insurance Co.

Hillman said he filled out the application and gave it to
another insurance broker, John Gorsline, who was authorized to
contract with United of Omaha. He said Patterson paid $5,000 in
January 2001 as part of an installment plan.

Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt's employer, was required to
carry $7.2 million in insurance to cover the driver's base salary,
according to a portion of Earnhardt's racing contract that was
introduced as evidence in the trial.

The amount included $3.7 million with insurer United of Omaha,
which RCR claims cheated widow Teresa Earnhardt out of the payment
after Earnhardt's death in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona
500.

RCR took out the policy and is pursuing the matter on the
family's behalf. Another insurer has already paid a $3.5 million
claim.

United of Omaha claims the policy was never valid for Earnhardt
because he had not taken a required physical.

Under cross-examination by attorney John Morrow, Hillman said he
never directly contacted United of Omaha during the application
process. Instead, Gorsline, who was licensed to sell the insurer's
products in North Carolina, made all the contacts, he said.

Hillman said the pair had worked together for several years and
specialized in life insurance and other insurance products for
members of the racing community, including Earnhardt and other
drivers such as Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Kimberly Taylor ruled that
Earnhardt's racing team won the lawsuit because the insurer failed
to hand over key documents to RCR lawyers.

The only issue now before the jury now is whether United of
Omaha should pay the $3.7 million claim.

The jury also heard testimony Tuesday from two insurance
industry veterans testifying for the defense. Both said the life
insurance policy on Earnhardt didn't exist because of key
omissions, especially the lack of a physical.

The judge said she already had decided that the insurance
company was responsible for the policy.

Morrow has called the missing documents, which included e-mails
and handwritten legal memos, smoking gun-type documents that hurt
RCR's right to a fair trial.