Does an Insurance Policy Have To Pay Accidental Death Benefits If You Were Drunk and Speeding?

An insurance policy with an accidental death benefit may have to pay a death benefit to a motorcyclist who dies in an accident even if the motorcyclist was drunk and speeding.

Anthony McClelland was killed when he went off the road and crashed his motorcycle after failing to navigate a curve. McClelland was not wearing a helmet; was speeding at over 90 mph; was possibly racing with another motorcycle and car; and was drunk. The toxicology report stated that he had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.203%. The report listed blunt force trauma as the immediate cause of death and acute ethanol intoxication as a significant condition.

Anthony McClelland had an employee benefit insurance policy at work as defined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) which provided a $250,000 accidental death benefit.

The Life Insurance Company of North America denied payment of the death benefit claiming that the death was not a result of an accident because he was drunk. The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the death was an accident and that the insurance company has to pay the death benefit.

Evidence was submitted that, according to friends he had seen that day, McClelland was in a good mood and had plans for other activities later that day. This evidence indicated that McClelland did not intend or anticipate his death on the day of his motorcycle accident and his death was therefore an accident.

The U.S. District Court agreed and stated that the evidence indicated that McClelland intended to reach his next destination and that he did not intend or expect to die. Interestingly, the court also stated, “The statistics offered by Plaintiff demonstrate that a person in this situation is overwhelmingly likely to safely reach his destination, particularly when he is an experienced drinker”. (Apparently, McClelland was an experienced drinker!)

The court further found that although he engaged in behavior that greatly raised his risk of serious injury or death, there is no evidence that a reasonable, similarly situated person would think that death or serious injury was highly likely.

The court concluded that if the insurance company wants to exclude drunk driving crashes from coverage for accidental death, it can easily write an exclusion in the insurance policy. The insurance policy which insured Anthony McClelland did not have such an exclusion for accidental death benefits.