Williams v. Natl. Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pitt., 2015 WL 4080909 (9th Cir. July 7, 2015) involved the death of “an acclaimed horticulturist” from pulmonary embolism triggered by deep vein thrombosis after flying approximately 28 hours over five days. Plaintiff was covered by an AD&D policy through his employer. The policy covered death as “a direct result of an unintended, unanticipated accident that is external to the body[.]”

The plaintiff argued that the DVT was unintended and unanticipated, and that its cause – extended sitting on planes – was external to the body. The insured denied the claim; the district court upheld the denial on de novo review; and the 9th Circuit affirmed.

The court began by noting that the term “accident” is difficult to define, and that death from DVT reasonably could be considered an accident. However, the policy in question contained the key modification that the cause of death must be external, in addition to being an accident.

Plaintiff’s seating on planes did not qualify under this test: “Although Williams’ confined seating on planes may have been an external cause of his death, there was nothing ‘unintended’ or ‘unanticipated’—i.e., nothing accidental—about his seating arrangement.” Further, plaintiff did not encounter unusual circumstances during his flights that aggravated the effect of his prolonged seating, like being unable to move around or drink fluids.