Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) Required To Cover Accidental Death of Intoxicated Driver in California

Courts across the country have struggled with whether an accidental death insurance policy covers the death of a drunk driver.  Some courts have ruled that intoxicated drivers knowingly increase the risk of being involved in a fatal accident to the point that their death becomes foreseeable and thus, not accidental.  Other courts disagree, citing the fact that there is less than a 1% chance of an intoxicated driver being involved in a fatal accident.

Intoxicated Driver Had A Reasonable Expectation of Survival Under Accidental Death Insurance Policy.

Since the policy did not define the term “Accident”, the court looked to ERISA common law citing Padfield v. AIG Life Insurance Company, 290 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2002).  Padfield defined an accident as an event that was unintended or unintentional.  An event would be considered non-accidental only where a reasonable person would consider the resulting death as substantially certain to result from the insured’s conduct.

A California Federal Court had never ruled on this issue until 2010 when a San Diego Federal Court ruled that a reasonable person with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of between .05 and .10% driving a motorcycle at night without a helmet at 90 m.p.h. would not have expected to be involved in a collision causing their death.  Thus, under Ninth Circuit authority the court found that the motorcycle driver’s death was accidental.

The court left open the question whether under other circumstances with a higher BAC level that the court may have made a different finding.

For more details see Brettelle v. Life Insurance Company of North America, 691 F.Supp.2d 1249 (S.D.Cal. 2010).

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