Williams v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: ERISA
  • Date Filed: 07-07-2015
  • Case #: 13-55719
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Lipez for the Court; Circuit Judge Wardlaw and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

When using the federal common law, policy terms governed by Employee Retirement Income Security Act are interpreted in the ordinary and popular sense as a person of average intelligence and experience.

In October 2010, Jack Williams passed away from Deep Vein Thrombosis, often associated with long flights. Williams had flown for roughly 28 hours over a five-day period prior to his death. Williams had a one million dollar accidental death policy with National Union Fire Insurance Company ( “Union” ), that was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The policy defined injury as a bodily injury that was “sustained as a direct result of an unintended, unanticipated accident that is external to the body.” Williams’ widow submitted a claim on the accidental death policy. Her claim was denied because of a lack of evidence of the injury being unanticipated or and unintended external event. The district court granted Union’s summary judgment. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit interpreted the language of the policy as an ordinary person of average intelligence and experience would with regard to federal common law. The panel determined that the death of Williams was an accident, but the accident did not meet the definition of the policy. The panel concluded that Williams failed to provide evidence as to how the accident was unanticipated, or how there was an external event causing the accident that the denial of the accidental death policy claim was proper. AFFIRMED.

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