Teri J. Dobbins


Most motor vehicle crashes are traceable to “some failure of judgment that fully reveals its dangers only when it is too late. That is precisely why they are accidents.” For example, speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to vehicular crashes. Although especially deadly when combined with driver intoxication, speeding is a significant contributing factor in fatal crashes involving sober drivers. Part II of this Article briefly discusses the development of accident insurance. It examines courts' struggles in determining whether an insured's death was an accident for purposes of awarding accidental death benefits, and approaches to resolving this issue.Part III reviews the case law on drunk drivers' deaths as accidents within the meaning of accidental death insurance, examining representative cases in three categories. First, cases reflecting the majority rule that drunk drivers' deaths are not accidents. Second, cases characterizing drunk drivers' deaths as accidents--the present minority view. Third, cases in which courts deny accidental death benefits not because they characterize intoxicated drivers' deaths as non-accidental, but because of policy exclusions. Part IV explains the analytical framework that courts should employ when attempting to determine whether an intoxicated driver's death was accidental. This approach was proposed nearly twenty years ago in Wickman v. Northwestern National Insurance Co., but many courts that have attempted to apply it have misconstrued its elements, or have substituted value judgments for legal ones. This Part strives to correct such errors and to appropriately guide future courts.