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Schroeder v. Minnesota Life Insurance Co.

April 17, 2007

EDWARD SCHROEDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MINNESOTA LIFE INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Edward Schroeder has sued Minnesota Life Insurance Company to recover accidental death benefits from a life insurance policy issued to his former wife, Dianne Nicholson, of which Schroeder is the sole beneficiary. In June 2005, Nicholson died from injuries sustained in an automobile collision after she had a seizure. Minnesota Life argued that because the collision resulted from the seizure disorder, the policy did not provide coverage. It also contends that because Nicholson had previously been diagnosed with a seizure disorder, her death was foreseeable and thus was not "accidental" as required for coverage. Schroeder has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants his motion.

Facts

Because Schroeder has moved for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to Minnesota Life and draws reasonable inferences in its favor. See, e.g., Carreon v. Ill. Dep't of Human Svcs., 395 F.3d 786, 790 (7th Cir. 2005).

On June 21, 2005, while driving in Niles, Illinois, Nicholson had a seizure and pulled her car to the side of the road. Witnesses approached her car, observed her having a seizure, and attempted to pull her from the vehicle. Before the witnesses could extricate Nicholson, she unintentionally depressed the accelerator, causing her vehicle to careen down an adjacent embankment and into a tree. See Pl. Ex. C.

Nicholson was pronounced dead approximately one hour later. See Pl. Ex. E. According to the Cook County Medical Examiner, she "died of multiple injuries due to an automobile accident. Seizure disorder was a significant underlying condition contributing to her death." Pl. Ex. F at 5.

At the time of her death, Nicholson was insured by a policy purchased from Minnesota Life of which Schroeder was the sole named beneficiary. The policy provided benefits in the event of "accidental death . . . which occurs as a result of an accidental injury." Pl. Ex. A. It defined this term as follows:

Accidental death or dismemberment by accidental injury as used in this supplement means that your death or dismemberment results, directly and independently of disease or bodily infirmity, from an accidental injury which is unexpected and unforeseen.

Id. The policy contained an exclusion stating that "[i]n no event will we pay the accidental death or dismemberment benefit where your death or dismemberment results from or is caused directly by any of the following: . . . (3) bodily or mental infirmity, illness or disease . . . . Id.

Minnesota Life argues that Nicholson's death resulted from or was caused directly by bodily or mental infirmity, illness or disease, thus precluding coverage under the disease exclusion. Alternatively, it argues, Nicholson's death was not unexpected and foreseen, and thus was not "accidental," because it was foreseeable that driving, given her seizure disorder and prior medical history, could result in a collision and injury.

Minnesota Life also contends that it should be permitted to conduct additional discovery before summary judgment is considered. Specifically, Minnesota Life wants to conduct further discovery into automobile accidents involving Nicholson in October 2003 and March 2004, and it wishes to conduct further discovery into her medical history (which includes a craniotomy, brain aneurisms, and prior cocaine abuse), hoping that this will lead to evidence showing that it was foreseeable that a collision would occur if she drove an automobile and that her seizure disorder "contributed and played a role in her death." Def. Resp. at 3-4.

Schroeder does not dispute that Nicholson had a seizure disorder. He likewise does not dispute that Nicholson suffered a seizure that was an underlying condition that contributed to her death. Schroeder contends, however, that to determine the applicability of the policy's disease exclusion, only the immediate cause of death matters, which in this case was the physical injury that resulted from the collision. He also contends that Nicholson's death was accidental as the insurance policy and Illinois law define that term. Schroeder argues that none of the further discovery sought by Minnesota Life has any possibility of showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Discussion

When a district court rules on a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [its] favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Entry of summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact ...


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