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Lichtenberger v. Superior Oil Co.

OPINION FILED JULY 13, 1979.

VONDA F. LICHTENBERGER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE SUPERIOR OIL COMPANY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of White County; the Hon. HENRY LEWIS, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GEORGE J. MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an action brought by the widow of Ralph Lichtenberger against his employer, Superior Oil Company (Superior), and its group insurer, Tennessee Life Insurance Company (Tennessee), for recovery of benefits under a supplemental accidental death and dismemberment policy. Under the group policy, Superior's employees were covered by life insurance and accidental death benefits insurance. The plaintiff claims that Tennessee owes her benefits for the accidental death of her husband in an automobile accident which occurred on November 28, 1970, the date of her husband's retirement. Tennessee claims that Lichtenberger was not insured for accidental death benefits at the time of the accident, because he had "ceased active work." All parties filed motions for summary judgments supported by affidavits. The plaintiff appeals from the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The sole issue presented for review is whether under the terms of the group insurance policy Lichtenberger had ceased actively working for Superior on November 28, 1970.

Ralph Lichtenberger was employed as a carpenter by Superior. He received an hourly wage, rather than a fixed salary, and he normally worked 40 hours per week. The record indicates that Lichtenberger's hours were flexible, and that he frequently took time off between Monday and Friday, completing his 40-hour week on Saturday. In connection with his employment at Superior, Lichtenberger was insured under a group life insurance policy issued by Tennessee. The principal policy had a face value of $15,800 while a supplemental accidental death and dismemberment policy provided for a death benefit of an additional $15,800. These policies contained the following provisions:

"DEFINITIONS

* * * Employment for insurance purposes terminates when the Employee ceases active work * * *.

Actively at Work; The term `actively at work' shall mean, when used with respect to an eligible Employee, an eligible Employee who is not absent from active full time work from illness or personal injury.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance shall terminate on the date of retirement."

On November 12, 1970, Lichtenberger delivered the following letter to his supervisor at Superior:

"Dear Mr. Cole:

Reference is made to my conversation with you on October 21, 1970, in regard to my leaving the Superior Oil Company. At that time I advised you that as soon as a definite date could be established, you would be informed. Therefore, November 28, 1970, will terminate my employment with the Superior Oil Company.

I would appreciate it if retirement money and stock certificates which I have bought in the Savings and Investment Plan, would be available for me at this time.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

/s/ Ralph L. ...


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