North American Company for Life and Health Insurance v. Michelle Caldwell, et al, No. 22-10534 (11th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
North American issued two insurance policies for the life of J.C. On November 9, 2018, it issued a policy that named an irrevocable trust managed by the trustee as beneficiary. It issued a policy that named J.C.’s wife, as beneficiary. Each contained an essentially identical clause that excluded suicide from coverage under the policy. That clause read, “SUICIDE — If the Insured commits suicide, while sane or insane, within two years from the Policy Date, Our liability is limited to an amount equal to the total premiums paid.” In a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the beneficiaries argued that “the entire lawsuit is predicated on [North American’s] erroneous position that the contract term ‘suicide’ is synonymous with the expression ‘suicide by cop,’ which is a term of art that actually refers to justifiable homicide.” The district court agreed that “[t]he plain meaning of the term ‘suicide’ encompasses the act of killing oneself—not the killing of a person by another” and granted the motion.
The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded finding that the ordinary meaning of “suicide” includes suicide-by-cop. The court explained that here, where the beneficiaries agree with the allegations in North American’s complaint due to the procedural posture of the case, no factual question exists. The ordinary meaning of “suicide” certainly covers J.C.’s specific behavior in pointing his gun at police officers to provoke them into shooting and killing him as part of his plan to end his own life. Thus, the district court erred in ruling to the contrary.