In Rice v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., 770 F.3d 1122 (5th Cir. 2014), the police responded to a 911 call about the decedent, Rice, sitting in his car, in his garage, with a gun to his head, threatening suicide. After various failed efforts by the police to get him to surrender, he walked toward the police, refused to drop his gun, said “I want to commit suicide,” and was shot and killed.
ReliaStar denied an AD&D claim, finding that Rice put himself in a position in which he should have known that serious injury or death could occur as a result of his actions. (Rice’s family also sued the officer who fired the shots; those claims were dismissed on summary judgment).
The question whether Rice’s death was accidental is a question of fact. Involving consideration “whether (1) the decedent had a subjective expectation of survival and (2) if so, was the expectation objectively reasonable.”
The court declined to consider plaintiffs’ argument that there was a federal common law presumption in favor of accidental death, holding that, even if there were, ReliaStar was entitled to summary judgment. There was ample evidence that Rice wanted and intended to kill himself, from events occurring both before, and after, the police arrived on the scene. Because it was reasonable for Reliastar to determine that Rice did not have a subjective expectation of survival, its determination was within its discretionary authority