Home Page The Publication The Editor Contact Information Insurance Key issues Book Subscribe

Vol. 6, Iss. 3
March 22, 2017

Incredibly Tragic Case – Incredibly Unique Issue

One of the occupational hazards of doing coverage work, and reading coverage decisions, is being confronted with tragic situations. It’s the nature of the beast since, by definition, insurance comes into play when things go wrong. And sometimes horrifically wrong. That’s what happened in Trustgard, Ins. Co. v. Old National Wealth Management, No. 15-258 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 24, 2017). While the case is very sad, I mention it here because one of the coverage issues is very unique. In fact, I can’t imagine that the issue has ever come up before -- or ever will again.

The Old National court addressed coverage under the following circumstances. George Samson shot and killed Kelly Ann Ecker in front of her son L.O.E. Mr. Samson then killed himself. Incredibly, Ms. Ecker and Mr. Samson had participated in a wedding ceremony the day before. It was held at Mr. Samson’s home, where the shooting took place.

Suits were brought against Mr. Samson’s estate. Mr. Samson’s homeowner’s insurer, Trustgard, filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that it owed no coverage for claims arising out of the death of Ms. Ecker or injuries sustained by L.O.E.

The court addresses several issues, including the potential applicability of the “Resident Relative Exclusion,” which provides as follows:

Bodily injury to:
a. you;
b. your relatives residing in your household; and
c. any other person under the age of 21 residing in your household who is in your care or the care of a resident relative.

Trustgard argued that the Resident Relative Exclusion applied because “Mr. Samson and Ms. Ecker were married right before Mr. Samson killed Ms. Ecker and that L.O.E., who was under 21 years old at the time, lived in the residence with his mother at the time of her death.”

However, while Mr. Samson and Ms. Ecker had a marriage ceremony the day before the shooting, whether they were, in fact, married, wasn’t so simple, as demonstrated by the court’s denial of the insurer’s motion for summary judgment: “Defendants have presented facts that call into question whether Mr. Samson and Ms. Ecker were legally married. First, there is no record at Vigo Superior Court of the marriage license and marriage certificate ever being filed. The only procedural mechanism under Indiana law to recognize a marriage if the individual who solemnized the marriage does not file the marriage license and certificates is if either party files a declaratory judgment with the court in order to recognize their marriage. See Ind. Code 31-11-4-17. This would not be possible, given that Mr. Samson and Ms. Ecker are deceased. Ms. Schafer also testified that Ms. Ecker never intended to go through with the marriage and that she went through with the wedding ceremony under duress.” [On the duress issue, there is a lot of discussion in the opinion about the tumultuous relation between Mr. Samson and Ms. Ecker, Mr. Samson’s alleged abuse of Ms. Eckert and whether Ms. Ecker went through with the wedding ceremony because she was afraid not to.]

As I said, this coverage issue – whether a marriage exists, following a wedding ceremony, for purposes of a Resident Relative exclusion -- is probably once in a lifetime.

[The court did hold that exclusions for intentional acts, expected or intended and criminal acts applied.]

Website by Balderrama Design Copyright Randy Maniloff All Rights Reserved