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Life, Health & Disability Law
 meaning” test and relied on Black’s Law Dictionary, American Heritage, and Websters Collegiate dictionary definitions of “suicide” that defined it in terms like “self-killing” or “self-destruction.” Id. The court also relied on an 1876 Supreme Court case, Bigelow v. Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 93 U.S. 284, 23 L.Ed. 918 (1876)(“dying by one’s own hand”), and a Florida Statute, Fla. Stat. § 782.08(1)(a)(b)(“voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life”), as well as case authority from Florida and Maryland which distinguished between death resulting from self-harm and “assisted self-murder.” Id. at 1269-70 [citations omitted].
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit panel disagreed with the court below and held that the carrier could rely on the suicide exclusion to deny death benefits to the family of a man who succeeded in his plan to engage in “suicide by cop”, reversing the lower court decision. 55 F.4th 871-872. The court agreed with North American that a death must be deemed a suicide when someone purposely instigates it. “The requirements for a suicide are a person’s intent to die, his voluntary act on that intent, and his resultant death,” the panel said. Id. at 870. “The specific method is irrelevant.” Id. It stated that the definition of “suicide” in various dictionaries covers “any method used by someone to end his own life” and is not restricted to a “limited set of qualifying acts that involve no third parties.” Id. See also Bryan A. Garner, Suicide, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 861 (3d ed. 2011) (“Suicide and self-killing are broad terms that include every instance in which a person causes his or her own death within the legal rules of causation.”)”. 55 F.4th at 870. In rejecting the beneficiaries’ arguments that the death was more akin to homicide rather than suicide, the court observed that “it is well known that cops are trained to use deadly forced to stop a person who threatens their own lives. As such, a civilian who provokes them into this predictable response is not much different than a man who throws himself in a train’s path anticipating the “lethal outcome of being run over.” Id. at 871.
In ruling for the carrier, the court cautioned that “To be clear, we do not decide that the ordinary meaning of ‘suicide’ covers all imaginable instances of suicide-by-cop,” the panel said. “Indeed, many instances may require factual determinations regarding the decedent’s intent or actions. But here ... no factual question exists.” 55 F.4th at 871.
Russell S. Buhite is a Shareholder with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. in Seattle, WA. Contact him at:

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