Court Rules Parachuting Death Not Covered Under AD&D Policy

April 22, 2004 ( - The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found parachuting accidents are not covered under an accidental death and dismemberment insurance plan (AD&D) and thus the victim's beneficiary is not entitled to $300,000 in plan benefits.

Affirming an earlier decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the appeals court foundparachuting accidents fell under the AD&D plan’s exclusion for certain activities related to air travel.   The appeals court found the plan’s decision not to pay out plan benefits to the victim’s beneficiary was valid.

MichaelAdams participated in his employer’s AD&D plan, administered by Continental Insurance Co.   The beneficiary, Brandee Adams, filed a claim for benefits following Michael’s death in a skydiving accident, which was the result of “suffocation due to a crushing injury to his larynx and trachea caused by a high-speed parachute landing on a hard-dirt surface,” the court said.  

Continental Insurance denied Brandee Adams claim, since Michael’s death occurred while he was riding in a “vehicle for aerial navigation” under circumstance that were not provided for under the plan’s “Air Travel Coverage” section.   Brandee appealed the denial of the claim, and on July 18, 2000, Continental’s Appeals Committee affirmed the denial based on the exclusion.

After exhausting her administrative remedies, Brandee brought an action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.   In the court action, Brandee contendedparachuting was not a “navigational activity.”   Brandee also argued that Michael was not “riding in” a vehicle or device for aerial navigation because he was suspended from-rather than being “in”-the parachute.   Further, Brandee contends Michael’s death was not necessarily the result of parachuting as he could have tripped in the field, fallen on his altimeter, and caused the injuries resulting in his death.

The district court disagreed with these points, siding with Continental Insurance that parachuting accidents were excluded from coverage.   The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The case isAdams v. Continental Insurance Co., 8th Circuit, No. 03-2213.