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KOMPERDA v. HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY

May 13, 2003

PATRICIA KOMPERDA, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR FOR JAMES J. KOMPERDA, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case is before the Court on the cross-motions for summary iudgment brought by plaintiff Patricia Komperda and defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

On October 1, 2000, the plaintiff's decedent, James Komperda, died as the result of multiple injuries he suffered when a pipe bomb he was constructing exploded prematurely. An investigation by the Will County Sheriff's Department determined that the pipe bomb explosion that caused Komperda's death occurred when he was

putting the pipe bomb together having the end caps and the gunpowder into the pipe bomb itself and then [bringing] the drill press down in this type fashion (indicating), the drill bit coming into the head of the cap of the end cap of the bomb; and at that time with the friction and the gunpowder, the pipe bomb in fact exploded, blowing him up.
(Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 13.)

During their investigation, the Will County Sheriff's Department interviewed Mike Jajkowski, a fried of Komperda, who stated that he was with Komperda when Komperda started making pipe bombs a month before the explosion. Initially, Komperda made the pipe bombs by filling PVC pipes with black powder, capping the ends of the pipe, and inserting a cannonball wick after drilling a hole in the end cap. (Def. 56.1 Stmt, at ¶ 15.) The first bomb that Komperda made had a wick approximately 15 to 20 feet long "so they could be a safe distance away from the bomb before it blew up." (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 16.) After the two men detonated the first pipe bomb, Jajkowski was "somewhat scared because of the large explosion." (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 17.) In addition, Jajkowski "further advised that one of the PVC pipe bombs was partially completed at his residence by himself and James [Komperda], however, he did not want to have any of that stuff at his house so he never allowed James to finish any of the bombs at his home again." (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 18.) Apparently, this statement forced Komperda to continue his bomb making in his own garage, eventually concluding with the explosion that took his life in October 2000.

At the time of his death, the decedent was a participant in Central Steel and Wire Company's employee welfare benefit plan. The plan is an employee welfare benefit plan regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., through its purchase of group insurance issued by defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company ("Hartford") to Central Steel and Wire Company's health plan trust. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 5.) Under the plan's basic life insurance coverage, a participant's beneficiaries receive payments when the participant dies (from any cause) while covered by the program. Additional coverage is also provided under the accidental death, dismemberment and loss of sight provision when death occurs from injuries caused solely by "accident." These benefits are paid if the participant dies while insured and the "loss results directly from such injury, independent of all other causes. . . ." (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 9.) Accidental death benefits are not available, however, when death is caused by injuries that were "intentionally self-inflicted. . . ." (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 10.)

The decedent was enrolled in both of these plans in the amount of $10,000 each. He designated his wife, the plaintiff in this case, as the beneficiary. On February 13, 2001, Central Steel and Wire Company submitted a claim to Hartford for life insurance benefits in the amount of $10,000 and accidental death benefits in the amount of $10,000, payable to the plaintiff. On June 8, 2001, Hartford notified the plaintiff in writing that her request for accidental death benefits had been denied. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 24.) Hartford's explanation of the decision to deny the accidental benefits was two-fold. Hartford first reasoned that Komperda's death was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his construction of a pipe bomb and, thus, his death was not the result of an accidental injury independent of all other causes. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 27.) In addition, Hartford concluded that because Komperda constructed the pipe bomb of his own volition, the intentionally self-inflicted injury exclusion precluded recovery of accidental death benefits under the policy.

On July 25, 2001, the plaintiff appealed Hartford's denial of accidental death benefits. On August 21, 2001, according to the terms and conditions of the policy, Hartford paid general life insurance benefits to the plaintiff in the amount of $10,000. On October 19, 2001, Hartford denied the plaintiff's appeal and upheld its prior decision to deny accidental death benefits. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 31.)

On June 26, 2002, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking payment of the accidental death benefits. On July 30, 2001, Hartford removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions of file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment carries the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the position of the non-moving party. Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). The non-moving party must then set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is. not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). A genuine dispute about a material fact exists only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986).

In making this determination, the Court must draw every reasonable inference from the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and should not make credibility determinations or weigh evidence. Association Milk Producers, Inc. v. Meadow Gold Dairies, Inc., 27 F.3d 268, 270 (7th Cir. 1994). The non-moving party must support its contentions with admissible evidence and may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or conclusory statements in affidavits. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. The production of only a scintilla of evidence will not suffice to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. ...


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