FEDERAL JUDGE FINDS “LEGALLY INTOXICATED” EXCLUSION IS NOT AMBIGIOUS

July 12, 2011

Recently, in Likens v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, 2011 WL 2584803, a federal District Court judge in the Southern District of Texas denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and granted Hartford’s motion for summary judgment regarding the alleged ambiguity of the “legally intoxicated” exclusion of a life insurance policy. In this case, Plaintiff sought life insurance benefits as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy on Wesley Vincent. The policy provided benefits for “accidental” death.  Hartford denied the claim due to Vincent’s intoxication at the time of the injury which lead to his death.  More specifically, Hartford relied on provisions of the policy that required that the injury arise from an accident “independent of all other causes.”  In addition, the policy excluded injuries “sustained as a  result  of  being  legally  intoxicated  from  the  use  of  alcohol.”   Plaintiff  argued  the  term  “legally intoxicated” was ambiguous, but the Court rejected this argument explaining “[n]ot every difference in interpretation of an insurance policy amounts to an ambiguity.”  Based on the facts surrounding Vincent’s injury,  the  Court  concluded  no  reasonable  jury  could  find  facts  that  would  avoid  the  intoxication exclusion of the policy.