After a man was seriously injured in a one-car accident in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, and rendered disabled to the point that he was no longer able to complete his job, he began to receive short term disability benefits from his employer. After those benefits expired, the man filed a claim for long term disability benefits. However, this claim was denied by the provider. The company’s policy with regard to long term disability benefits expressly prohibits the coverage of losses that are due to illegal acts. In this case, the man involved in the accident was reported to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.15, almost twice the legal limit in Louisiana, at the time of the accident.
Once his claim was denied, the man requested an appeal, claiming that the insurance company could not deny him coverage under the clause regarding illegal acts. The man provided several reasons why his act of driving under the influence should not be included in this clause: the policy did not include a specific “intoxication” provision; driving under the influence did not constitute an illegal act; even if it was an illegal act, the company could not prove that the accident happened because of his intoxication. At the time of the accident, two cars were racing towards him, and he had to swerve to miss them. The man claims that this was the real reason for the accident and that it had nothing to do with his intoxication.
In response to the man’s claims, the policy provider underwent an intensive investigation to determine whether or not it should grant the injured man’s long term disability claims. As part of the investigation, they found that the man’s blood alcohol level would have impaired his reflexes and reaction time at the time of the accident. Furthermore, by this time the man was indicted and given a DUI. Because of the DUI, medical records, and an export report that stated that the intoxication and resulting impairment contributed to the accident, the policy provider once again denied the man’s claims for coverage.
At this time, the man brought his claim against the policy provider to court. The trial court actually sided with the injured man, granting his motion for summary judgment with regard to coverage because it agreed that applying the “illegal acts” clause to the man’s case was unjust. Naturally, the policy provider appealed the case, claiming that the trial court had erred in reaching its decision. Specifically, the policy provider claimed that the trial court had abused its discretion in reaching its decision.
If the policy provider had the authority to interpret the terms of the policy and determine the individual’s eligibility for benefits, then the abuse of discretion standard would be the proper standard to employ. Under the “abuse of discretion” standard, the trial court or any other court reviewing the choices made by the policy provider should uphold the company’s decisions unless the person bringing claim against the company can prove that the company’s decisions were arbitrary. While the man argues that this is not the appropriate standard to use, the appellate court agrees that the policy expressly gave the policy provider the right to make all determinations with regard to eligibility for benefits.
So, now the court must simply decide whether or not this determination to deny the man’s claims was capricious or not. According to relevant case law, under the abuse of discretion standard, as long as the policy provider’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and was neither arbitrary nor capricious, then deference should be given to that decision. After reviewing the evidence, the court agreed that the policy provider interpreted the policy reasonably and that there was substantial evidence for the policy provider to deny the man’s claim. Because of this finding, the appellate court ultimately reversed the trial court’s judgment regarding the policy provider’s denial of coverage and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
If you have been involved in a car accident or other personal injury case and want to make sure that you are provided with competent representation to help you wade through the complex legal issues inherent in your case, contact Berniard Law Firm at (504) 527-6225.