Lockheed Martin faces odd federal case
Company sued by relative of deceased employee over benefits
The relationship ended as quickly as it started: They were together by Valentine’s Day and married the next month. By July, she was dead.
Now, the cause of the Cocoa woman’s suicide and her husband’s alleged role in it are all at the heart of an unusual federal lawsuit against defense and aerospace company Lockheed Martin — the woman’s employer — and insurance companies Voya and Prudential Financial brought forth by her brother.
The brother, Mark Stephens, alleges the woman’s husband coerced her to remove Stephens as a beneficiary from her life insurance and savings plans with Voya, Prudential and Lockheed, where she worked as a computer technician at the company’s offices in Brevard County.
Between her Prudential and Lockheed insurances, she had at least $254,000 to her name.
Shortly after the beneficiary change, she was dead, and Stephens claims the woman’s husband was at least partially responsible.
The tale starts in February 2018, when Donna Marie DeKarski met Christopher Rossi, 36, on the dating app Tinder. They were a match by Feb. 13 and married on March 25.
But according to a complaint filed in October in district court in Orlando, Stephens says the marriage wasn’t legitimate because he believed DeKarski, 44, was mentally incapacitated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the wedding. He claims his sister suffered from severe bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and had suicidal tendencies that were not properly medicated.
And, he says in the lawsuit, Rossi knew that.
As the marriage progressed, Stephens claims Rossi “systematically pressured and manipulated [DeKarski] to give him money, buy him a car, add him to her credit card accounts, add him to her insurance coverage, and name him as her beneficiary on all of her beneficiary designated assets.”
That means Stephens was removed as the beneficiary from her
group life insurance plan, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, and her savings plan.
Then, things took a dark turn on the night of July 21. After a day of heavy drinking, the suit says, DeKarski got into an argument with Rossi at their home in Cocoa.
The incident escalated until Dekarski ingested 12 bottles of prescription medication and two bottles of over-the-counter medication.
But, according to the suit, Rossi didn’t call for an ambulance. Instead, he allegedly left her lying unconscious on her bed and fell asleep on the sofa in the living room.
The next day, according to the suit, Rossi awoke to the sound of DeKarski’s labored breathing. He went to Walmart, and then met a friend at a bar at about 11 a.m., before returning home, the suit claims.
By then, DeKarski was unconscious. A friend of Rossi’s, who he thought was a licensed practical nurse, tried CPR on the woman to no avail, according to the suit. She was later taken to the hospital and pronounced dead at 3:23 p.m.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s office launched a homicide investigation into the death, which culminated in it being ruled a suicide, said sheriff’s office spokesman Tod Goodyear. An autopsy report confirms DeKarsi had a history of anxiety, depression and prescription abuse and also said suicide was the cause of death.
She was remembered on several obituary websites as a “wonderful person.” Former coworker Jackie Petit wrote, “I worked with Donna on a previous contract at the Cape, and remember her smiling face and her always helpful/can do attitude. She truly was a joy to be around.”
Attempts by the Orlando Sentinel to contact Rossi were unsuccessful. LockLockheed heed Martin did not respond to requests for comment.
After his sister’s death, Stephens tried to assert a claim to Lockheed, Prudential and Voya for death benefits under DeKarski’s insurance, but all three were rejected.
He is now seeking for the court to settle the dispute by invalidating Rossi as a beneficiary.
Attorney William Perry, who is representing Stephens and specializes in insurance cases, said most life insurances don’t let you collect as a beneficiary if you were somehow responsible for the death.
That’s what he hopes to prove with Rossi.
“They met online, she had never been married, she was a little older, they got married really fast, it was a whirlwind,” Perry said. “She had mental issues, and we think that he seized on those.”