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February 2003 Vol. 29, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hartford Insurance Tries to Stiff Diverís Widow

from the February, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Insurance companies often go to great lengths to avoid paying benefits, if they can get away with it. Here's a brief summary of a case that just ended last year, after appeals, in which Hartford Insurance Company did all it could to get out of paying the widow of a dead diver.

Larry Fuller, an Arkansas resident, was diving in Mexico with the Snorkel Center, aboard the dive boat El Magnifico, with 18 other divers. He motioned the dive boat for assistance after experiencing trouble with his regulator, but drowned after grabbing the dive boat's ladder in an attempt to board the boat.

Fuller had common carrier travel insurance with Hartford, through his membership in the Exxon Travel Club. The policy provided coverage for injury that "occurs while [the insured] is ... a passenger on, boarding, or alighting from a common carrier." Hartford refused Fuller's widow's claim for $500,000 in accidental death benefits under the policy, forcing her to sue.

Hartford argued, among other things, that Fuller's injury did not occur while he was boarding El Magnifico, as required by the policy. They claimed he was injured before attempting to board the dive boat, when he first experienced trouble with his regulator and his lungs began to fill with water.

The court slapped that silly notion down by saying, "We disagree with Hartford's attempt to parse the undisputed facts so finely. It appears Mr. Fuller's lungs were filling with water both before and after he grabbed the boat's ladder and attempted to board. Thus, his injury was an ongoing one and is not limited to the period preceding his fateful attempt to board the dive boat. The policy neither addresses nor excludes coverage for a continuing injury that starts before (and is still occurring while) an insured boards a common carrier."

Hartford also argued that there is no coverage unless both the "accident" (the event that caused the intake of water into Fuller's lungs) and the "injury" occur during the boarding process, because the policy required an injury to result "directly from accident." The court said, "the word 'directly' requires a causal relationship between accident and injury, not a simultaneous temporal relationship. Hartford could have written the policy in a manner that required the accident to occur during boarding, but did not."

Ms. Fuller was awarded $500,000 by the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

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