It seems that, running up to the holidays, the First Circuit and the district courts in the circuit chose to issue several particularly interesting, some would say even compelling, ERISA decisions. And why not? What lawyer wouldn’t want to receive a detailed analysis of one issue or another under ERISA for the holidays? I know I would. So over the next few posts, I will try to run these cases down for you. And while I make a certain light of it, the truth of the matter is that these are particularly interesting decisions, often presenting detailed and thorough discussions of particular points of importance in the realm of ERISA litigation and practice.
I thought I would begin with Stamp v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., out of the District Court for Rhode Island which, interestingly, took up the exact same issue under ERISA that David Rossmiller raised – only in his case, out of the Fourth Circuit – of whether an intoxicated driver’s death is an accident, and thus covered, under an ERISA governed accidental death and dismemberment policy, or instead is not.
In Stamp, the district court addressed almost the exact same fact pattern, and applied what has come to be known as the Wickman test to determine whether such a death should be deemed an accident. Here, the district court recognized that there is a split in authority on this question, but concluded that the plan participant’s level of intoxication was such that the death was “highly likely” and therefore not an accident. Based on this reasoning, the district court concluded that the administrator’s determination that the “death was not accidental is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
And finally, as a brief and not particularly important aside, the court also provides an entertaining digression as to whether Mark Twain, or instead Benjamin Disraeli, deserves the credit – or perhaps the blame – for one of my favorite quotes, that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." The District Court judge concluded that Twain remains responsible for it.