Life Insurance Denial Attorney – Exclusions

Life Insurance cases run a wide gamut of issues.  Here is a 1997, Austin Court of Appeals decision that deals with the denial of life insurance benefits due to an aviation exclusion.  The style of the case is, Board of Trustees of the Employees Retirement System of Texas v. Linda Benge.

Linda is the beneficiary under the life insurance policy at issue in this case.  The policy is an Accidental Death policy and contained an exclusion for air travel or flight.  The insured, Mr. Hury, flew his plan in an air show and upon landing his plane, went into a “ground loop” before stopping on an adjoining runway.  Another plane, while landing, collided with the plane of the insured killing the insured.

The beneficiary of the insured made the claim for benefits which was denied due to the exclusion.  A Judge ruled in favor of Linda and this appealed followed.  This Court ruled in favor of the insurer.

Ms. Benge contends that the Board erred in finding that Mr. Hury was engaged in flight or travel as contemplated by the aviation exclusion.   Her argument rests on the contention that a plane standing still on the runway, as Mr. Hury’s plane was at the moment of impact, cannot reasonably be considered to be engaged in travel or flight, since both concepts imply movement.

In denying coverage based on the exclusion, the Board found that (1) the insured was engaged in air travel or flight as contemplated by the language of the exclusion, and (2) this participation in air travel or flight caused or resulted in his death.

The contract provision excludes loss caused by or resulting from “travel or flight in any vehicle or device for aerial navigation including boarding or alighting therefrom.  The use of such inclusive language contemplates that travel or flight continues over a continuum of time.  Linda argues that travel contemplates only movement through space and once Mr. Hury brought his plane to a complete stop on the runway he was no longer flying or traveling through space.  Although at the time of the collision Mr. Hury’s flight may have ended in the aeronautic sense of the word, the fact that his plane was stopped does not mean that his flight or travel was over within the legal meaning of the aviation exclusion.  The Board construed “travel or flight” to encompass the time period from the moment of boarding through disembarking rather than just the period of actual movement through the air or on the ground.  The exclusion itself defines travel or flight as including boarding or alighting from the plane.  Mr. Hury may have momentarily stopped on the runway, but had he not been struck by the landing plane, he would have had to taxi his plane to a hangar or holding area where he could safely deplane.  His travel had not ended in any meaningful sense of the word.

The Board soundly construed “travel or flight” to encompass the time period of a few seconds following Mr. Hury’s landing of his plane, irrespective of the plane’s actual movement at that instant.  Linda’s proposed construction would result in intermittent coverage depending on a plane’s actual movement through space:  a pilot waiting on a runway for take-off instructions would be covered, while a pilot taxiing off the runway would be excluded from coverage.  The Board could have reasonably rejected such an arbitrary construction of the policy exclusion.  Moreover, the Board could have reasonably concluded that the risks associated with flight encompass the risk of landing the plane and the risk of losing control upon landing by looping over into the landing space allotted to another plane.  This Court held the Board’s interpretation of air travel or flight as contemplated by the aviation exclusion is neither legally erroneous nor arbitrary and capricious.  It further held its finding that Mr. Hury was engaged in air travel or flight is supported by substantial evidence.

This case gives some insight to how Court’s read and interpret insurance policies and apply the wording to the facts of the case.

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