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March 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 35, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Death of an Insured Diver

and why his wife could not collect

from the March, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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When Charlie Hillebrandt, a resident of Sulphur, Louisiana, died during a dive in Cozumel, he had basic and supplemental life insurance coverage through plans his employer provided from the Unum Life Insurance Company. Both policies provided for payment for losses caused by accidental bodily injury, but stated that losses "caused by, contributed by, or resulting from . . . disease of the body" are excluded from coverage. Unum has discretionary authority to make benefit determinations and under both plans, the beneficiary was required to show that a covered loss occurred. And, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said, there's the rub.

A Diver's Death

Hillebrandt, 58, was scuba diving in Cozumel on May 3, 2015, when he surfaced due to difficulty breathing. He soon passed into a coma and was airlifted to a hospital in Houston, Texas, where he died three days later.

According to his guide, he had complications within the first three minutes of diving when the group descended to 35 feet. The guide helped him to the surface, where Hillebrandt said he was having trouble breathing. On the boat, he received oxygen but soon suffered what the guide described as a heart attack. The guide provided CPR for 30 minutes until they reached the shore, where the ambulance crew took over....

Loss of consciousness within 10 minutes after surfacing is an air embolism.

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