Young Woman Gesturing for Quiet or Shushing

In Tran v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., No. 18-1723, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 12895, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. Apr. 29, 2019), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s judgment, which had allowed a policy beneficiary to recover under two Accidental Death & Dismemberment (“AD&D”) riders for an insured’s death caused by autoerotic asphyxiation.  The riders provided that “[i]n no event will [the insurer] pay the [AD&D] benefit where it results from or is caused directly by any of the following: . . . intentionally self-inflicted injury or any attempt at self-inflicted injury . . . .”

The district court found that the parties had agreed that the insured’s death was accidental and saw the only issue:  whether the injury was intentionally self-inflicted.  Because, according to the lower court, reasonable minds could disagree, the policy language had to be construed in favor of coverage.

The Court of Appeals disagreed.  Central to the Court of Appeals’ analysis was whether the insured’s death was an “injury” that was “intentionally self-inflicted.”  It was, said the court. It reasoned that strangulation—even if partial—is an injury.  Here, the insured had intentionally strangled himself to experience hypoxia-induced euphoria and thus his injury was self-induced.  It didn’t matter that his act may have been done with the intent to survive.  The court was clear, however, that it was not creating a per se rule with respect to AD&D coverage, but rather was relying on the plain language of the riders and the circumstances of the case.