Cunninghame v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of the U.S.

Citation652 F.2d 306
Decision Date29 June 1981
Docket NumberD,No. 1309,1309
PartiesAndrew L. CUNNINGHAME, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. The EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE SOCIETY OF the UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellant. ocket 81-7076.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

Page 306

652 F.2d 306
Andrew L. CUNNINGHAME, Plaintiff-Appellee,
No. 1309, Docket 81-7076.
United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.
Argued April 22, 1981.
Decided June 29, 1981.

Page 307

Michael W. Brody, New York City (Werner Weinstock, New York City, Marsh, Day & Calhoun, Bridgeport, Conn., of counsel), for defendant-appellant.

Eric J. Lieberman, Chicago, Ill. (William L. Arnold, Arnold & Hennessy, Chicago, Ill., Regnier, Taylor, Curran & Langenbach, Hartford, Conn., of counsel), for plaintiff-appellee.

Before LUMBARD, OAKES, and KEARSE, Circuit Judges.


This diversity case requires us to determine how the courts of Connecticut would interpret the terms of a group accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy under which appellee Andrew L. Cunninghame brought suit to collect damages for an injury to his spinal cord. Even if we view this insurance policy as a contract of adhesion and, therefore, construe it in a manner most favorable to Cunninghame, the policy simply does not cover Cunninghame's tragic injury. Accordingly, we must reverse the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Warren W. Eginton, Judge, Civ. No. B-77-124 (D.Conn. Jan. 7, 1981).


Cunninghame was insured under a group accidental death and dismemberment policy issued by appellant, The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, to the Raytheon Company, Cunninghame's employer. On December 3, 1972, Cunninghame fell from a ladder and sustained a compression fracture of his spine resulting in what is commonly called a "severed" spinal cord. This is a permanent injury which has resulted in the total loss of motor control and sensation in both legs. There are no prospects that Cunninghame will ever regain the use of either of his legs.

The Equitable insurance policy covered losses of "life," "two hands," "two feet," "sight of two eyes," and certain other injuries, each in the principal sum of $100,000. But the policy specifically provided that:

With regard to hands and feet, loss shall mean dismemberment by severance at or above wrist or ankle joints respectively; with regard to eyes, total and irrecoverable loss of sight.

Thus, when Cunninghame demanded payment of accidental dismemberment benefits, Equitable refused, contending that the policy only covered actual, physical separation of limb from body, rather than functional or practical loss of use. Cunninghame then commenced this action in Illinois state court to recover damages under the insurance policy. The case was removed to the federal forum on diversity grounds, see 28

Page 308

U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and thereafter transferred at the request of Equitable to the district court in Connecticut, see 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the state where Cunninghame resides, works, and suffered the accident at issue. 1

The district court first pointed out that there were no dispositive decisions by the highest court in Connecticut relating to the scope of coverage of a policy such as this. The court then relied upon an intermediate appellate case in Connecticut sustaining an insurance claim for the functional loss of vision in one eye within 365 days after the date of the accident, Roy v. Allstate Insurance Co., 34 Conn.Supp. 650, 383 A.2d 637 (Super.Ct.1978). In the Roy case, the policy at issue had provided for the payment of $2500 for the loss of the sight of one eye and the policy had defined "loss" to mean the "total and irrecoverable loss of (the) entire sight of (an) eye" within that time period. 383 A.2d at 638. The Connecticut court had held that the insured should recover under the policy because he had "lost the practical use of an eye which he will never be able to regain or recapture." Id. at 639. On this basis, Judge Eginton in the case at bar concluded that the highest Connecticut court would adopt a practical as opposed to a literal interpretation of the Equitable insurance policy. On the theory that the severance of Cunninghame's spinal cord was, for all practical purposes, equivalent to the severance of his feet, the court below entered judgment in Cunninghame's favor. Equitable challenges this position on appeal,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
49 cases
  • State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bates
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • June 30, 1982
    ...Glass Sand Corporation v. Caterpillar Tractor Company, 652 F.2d 1165, 1167 (3rd Cir. 1981); Cunninghame v. Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 652 F.2d 306, 308 (2nd Cir. 1981); Wilson v. Ford Motor Company, 656 F.2d 960, (4th Cir. 1981). In the Court's view, Georgia appe......
  • United Technologies Corp. v. American Home Assur.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 31, 1997
    ...rely on dictionaries to determine the plain and ordinary meaning of an insurance policy term. See e.g. Cunninghame v. Equitable Life Assur. Society, 652 F.2d 306, 309 (2d Cir.1981); Providence Washington Ins. Group v. Albarello, 784 F.Supp. 950, 953 (D.Conn.1992). Standard dictionaries, as ......
  • Stafford v. International Harvester Co., 92
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • December 31, 1981" Bailey Employment System, Inc. v. Hahn, 655 F.2d 473, 477 (2d Cir. 1981). (quoting Cunningham v. The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 652 F.2d 306, 308 (2d Cir. 1981)). The Supreme Court has recognized that the federal courts must on occasion play this One of the......
  • Stonewall Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Johnson Controls, Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 24, 1993
    ...the particular issue, some other state has a more significant relationship....' As the court explained in Cunningham v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of U.S. (2d Cir.1981) 652 F.2d 306: 'In contracts of casualty insurance, ... the principal location of the insured risk is given particular emph......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT