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Alcohol and Accidents

July 7, 2008
by Gary Enos
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An article published over the holiday weekend in the Providence Journal caught my eye because it illustrates the conflicting value judgments our society makes on alcohol use. The article focused on a divided federal appellate court's ruling that a 2002 one-car crash that killed a Connecticut man whose blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit cannot be termed an "accident" for purposes of triggering an accidental death insurance payment. The man's widow received life insurance benefits but was denied in her claim for an accidental death benefit. She filed a federal lawsuit that was eventually dismissed, and the recent appeals court decision went against her as well. Exxon Mobil Chemical Company, where the woman's husband had been employed, had upheld the original insurance judgment that the man's death was not accidental. "The risks flowing from driving while intoxicated are completely within the control of the participant," the Journal quoted Exxon Mobil's denial letter as stating. Despite the widow's attorneys' contention that the chance of dying from driving while intoxicated is just over 1%, the majority opinion in the appellate court focused on "what a reasonable person would perceive to be the likely outcome of the intentional conduct," the Journal reported. The judges issuing the majority opinion compared driving drunk to playing a game of Russian roulette, where the statistical probabilty of death is substantially higher.

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Gary Enos

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Gary A. Enos has been the editor of Addiction Professional since its inception. He...