Barron v. AMEX Assurance Company (JOINT ASSIGN)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that (1) plf's 46 objections are overruled; (2) the 40 Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge is ADOPTED; and (3) def's 24 Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, as further set out in order. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 7/11/16. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
AMEX INSURANCE COMPANY,
) CASE NO.: 2:14-CV-1095-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
On June 16, 2016, the Magistrate Judge filed a Recommendation (Doc. # 40)
to which Plaintiff timely filed objections. (Doc. # 46.) Defendant filed a response
to the objections. (Doc. # 47.) The court has conducted an independent and de novo
review of those portions of the Recommendation to which objections are made. See
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The objections are without merit and the Magistrate Judge’s
Recommendation is due to be adopted.
This is a suit by a beneficiary for the proceeds of two accidental death policies
issued by Defendant. The decedent, Rhonda Barron, suffered from severe chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) and congestive heart failure (“CHF”), for
which she was hospitalized on July 18, 2013. (Doc. # 24-3 at 2.) She was discharged
to a rehabilitation center, where, on August 7, 2013, she fell and fractured her right
hip, right arm, and neck. (Doc. # 24-5 at 2; Doc. # 24-7 at 2.) She was hospitalized,
underwent surgery to repair her hip, and was discharged again to the rehab facility,
on August 12, 2013. (Doc. # 24-4.)
Ms. Barron died on September 22, 2013, at the age of 73. On her death
certificate, the cause of death was listed as “accident,” and the immediate cause of
death was listed as “right hip fracture.” (Doc. # 24-17.) Underlying causes of death
were listed as COPD and coronary artery disease. (Doc. # 24-17.)
Under Alabama law as applied to the policies at issue, no coverage is owed
unless, under the chain-reaction theory, an accidental injury “start[ed] a chain
reaction resulting in death, . . . even if one of the links in the chain is old age, frailty
and some links are dormant diseases or physical conditions without which the chain
would be broken.” Liberty Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Reid, 158 So.2d 667, 674 (Ala.
1963). Thus, for the chain reaction theory to apply in this case, (1) Ms. Barron’s
previously existing conditions must have been dormant prior to the accident, and (2)
the accident must have started a chain reaction that resulted in her death and that
included her previously-dormant conditions as links in the chain. See id.
Plaintiff contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that no accidental
death coverage is owed under the chain reaction theory because, according to
Plaintiff, the record contains conflicting evidence that could reasonably support a
finding that Ms. Barron’s COPD and CHF were dormant prior to the accident in
which she fell. Whether or not the record supports a finding of dormancy prior to
the fall,1 Plaintiff points to no evidence that the accident caused a chain reaction
resulting in Ms. Barron’s death.2
Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge’s Recommendation that summary
judgment be granted is correct.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s objections (Doc. # 46) are OVERRULED.
The Recommendation (Doc. # 40) is ADOPTED; and
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 24) is GRANTED.
Final judgment will be entered separately.
DONE this 11th day of July, 2016.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s finding that the undisputed evidence establishes
that Ms. Barron’s severe COPD and CHF were not dormant within the legal meaning of the chain
reaction theory. (Doc. # 40 at 30.) The Magistrate Judge’s finding on this point is correct.
However, even if the COPD and CHF could be described as “dormant” in any sense, mere
dormancy prior to the accident is not sufficient to establish that the subsequently activated COPD
and CHF were part of a chain reaction proximately caused by the accident.
Plaintiff contends that, under Alabama law, a death certificate is prima facie evidence of
the cause of death. Ala. Code 1975 § 12-21-101. Here, the death certificate provides evidence
that Ms. Barron’s death was caused by the hip fracture sustained in the accident, COPD, and CHF.
However, the death certificate does not provide evidence as to whether, even if dormant before the
fall, the COPD and CHF were links in a causal chain reaction that originated with the accident and
terminated in death.
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