Life Insurance Exclusions For Pilots

Does anybody in Dallas, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Arlington, Irving, Mesquite, Garland, Cedar Hill, Duncanville, De Soto, Lancaster, or anywhere in Texas have a pilot’s license? The answer is yes. So the next question is, “Are they covered in their life insurance policy if they die in an airplane crash?” The answer to that is, “It depends.”
All insurance policies are going to have “exclusions”. These exclusions will limit the responsibility of the life insurance company to pay death benefits when these exclusions may apply.
This issue came up in the case, American Home Assurance Company v. Loretta Anne Brandt. This is an older case which was decided in 1989 by the Texarkana Court of Appeals. The exclusion in this case excluded coverage by the following provision: “LIMITED AIR TRAVEL COVERAGE: Insurance provided under the policy includes riding as a passenger, but not as a pilot or crew member in, including boarding or alighting from, or being struck by, any aircraft.”
American Home Assurance Company (American) appealed this case from a jury verdict in favor of Lorretta Anne Brandt. American prevailed on appeal based on a technical error in the trial court and was sent back to the trial court for a new trial.
Here are some facts in the case.
On January 24, 1982, a twin-engine Cessna 402 aircraft, owned by Vernon Myers, crashed during an attempted landing in Laredo, Texas, killing all seven people aboard. When the plane crashed, Myers occupied the left pilot’s seat; Robert Brandt occupied the right pilot’s seat. The purpose of the flight was pleasure — a shopping trip to Mexico. Myers’ aircraft was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as requiring a crew of one, the pilot. Myers met FAA regulations to fly his aircraft without supervision and could legally carry passengers. Dow Chemical Company employed Brandt as a pilot. Dow Chemical held a life insurance policy for the benefit of its employees, through American. After the crash, American contended that Robert Brandt was acting as a pilot or crew member during the flight and was thus excluded from coverage by the provision cited above.
At trial, there was little evidence with regard to who performed what duties in the cockpit of the airplane, partly because those in the plane were killed and not able to tell about it. Through various documentary exhibits, Loretta Brandt showed that Myers owned the airplane and operated it and that he occupied the left, or pilot’s, seat at the time the plane crashed. She showed that Robert Brandt could not legally act as a flight instructor. Loretta Brandt also introduced a report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board, which reflected that Robert Brandt was the pilot in command, although this designation was apparently a result of the fact that Robert Brandt was a more highly qualified and experienced pilot than was Vernon Myers. In addition to the documentary evidence, Loretta Brandt called an expert witness, Hughes A. Moorer, Jr., a flight instructor, who testified with regard to various matters within his expertise, including custom, the fact that the pilot of the plane occupies the left seat in the cockpit, and that the plane involved would not normally have any crew members other than the pilot. Based upon his expertise and review of documents related to the investigation, Moorer opined that at the time of the disaster Robert Brandt was not acting as pilot or a crew member, but was a passenger in the plane. American chose not to produce any evidence other than a report from the Federal Aviation Administration concerning the qualifications of Robert Brandt as a pilot, but rather relied upon the notation in the National Transportation Safety Board’s report that Robert Brandt was pilot in command of the plane.
The relevance of this case is that the court upheld the right of a life insurance company to maintain in its policies an exclusion commonly called “Pilot exclusion.”
Anytime there is an exclusion in a policy that a life insurance company is relying on for denying coverage to a beneficiary under a life insurance policy, the beneficiary should seek the advice of an experienced Insurance Law Attorney before accepting the final determination of the self serving interests of the life insurance company.