Nearly two years after a UBS wealth manager was found dead in her bathtub on New Year’s Eve, a New York court official has filed a wrongful death suit accusing the late Shele Danishefsky Covlin’s estranged husband, a former stock trader, of strangling his wife.
Danishefsky Covlin, 47, worked as a senior vice president at UBS alongside family members in the Danishefsky Wealth Group before she was found dead in her Manhattan home.
On behalf of her estate, estimated at more than $1 million, the Manhattan public administrator, a government office that handles estate disputes, filed a civil suit in New York State Supreme Court this week seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from her widower Roderick B. Covlin. A civil trial requires a lesser burden of proof than a criminal case: a preponderance of evidence vs. guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Philip DeCaro of Harrison, N.Y., a lawyer for Roderick Covlin – who has not been charged with a crime – declined to comment.
The suit also claims he “brutally” subjected the mother of his two young children to “extreme physical pain and mental anguish prior to her death.” The case, which a source said was filed ahead of any possible criminal charges because of a two-year deadline to file wrongful death claims, also claims Danishefsky Covlin had expressed fears to others that her husband intended to kill her.
After Danishefsky Covlin’s death from what was originally thought to be a slip-and-fall accident, she was buried without an autopsy in keeping with the family’s Orthodox Jewish faith. The cause of her death was described on the death certificate as “unknown,” said attorney Mitchell Studley of De Brosse & Studley, the firm representing New York County in the civil suit.
Two months after she died, however, the New York District Attorney’s office, which had continued investigating Danishefsky Covlin’s death, persuaded the family to allow her body to be exhumed. After an autopsy, the city medical examiner’s office changed the cause of death to strangulation. The New York Police Department and investigators for the New York District Attorney are investigating the case as a homicide, law enforcement sources said.
“Wrongful death in New York is a pecuniary loss,” Studley said. “You have to show how much an individual was making and how much they would have made and how much the beneficiaries would have lost as a result of their death. The conscious pain and suffering [for which the suit also seeks redress] is something different. How much would it be worth to this family if she had lived a long life?”
A separate lawsuit filed in March in U.S. District Court in New York by United States Life Insurance Co. seeks to have the court decide how Danishefsky Covlin’s insurance benefit should be distributed. In the complaint, the suit says, that under state law, “if it is determined that Roderick B. Covlin intentionally killed” his wife, he would “forfeit any right to the death benefit.” Covlin’s share of the money would go to the couple’s two children, now aged 11 and 5.
Danishefsky Covlin’s father, Joel Danishefsky, and her brother, Philip Danishefsky, continue to work at UBS. Neither returned phone calls to their office. A spokesman for UBS would only say that the company “extends its deepest sympathies to her children.”
Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.