An insurance company does not have to pay a wrongful-death claim under the homeowner’s policy of a man whose houseguest overdosed on the heroin that he provided to her, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.
The court ruled 4-2 that public policy interests trump the language of Michael J. Greenfield’s insurance policy, precluding his insurer from having to indemnify Greenfield for the February 1998 fatal overdose of 18-year-old Angela Chelsea Smith.
Smith died in Greenfield’s Wormleysburg home after she injected a blue packet of heroin marked “suicide” that Greenfield had given to her.
Greenfield and another man moved her body about 10 miles away to a spot along a creek and then called police to report they had stumbled across it.
Greenfield was sentenced to one to two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter, delivery of heroin and abusing a corpse. The other man received a four- to 23-month sentence for abusing a corpse.
Greenfield, who has since declared bankruptcy, was sued by Smith’s parents on behalf of her estate.
Minnesota Fire and Casualty Co. asked a Cumberland County judge to declare they did not have to defend Greenfield, an action that culminated in this recent ruling. The high court said the insurer should not be saddled with a loss that was attributable to Greenfield’s unlawful actions.
“If the explicit criminalization of use or possession or sale of drugs that have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision does not manifest convincing proof of public interest, what would?” Justice Sandra Schultz Newman wrote for the majority.
Dissenting, Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy said the court should not rewrite the policy for Minnesota Fire and Casualty and expressed “grave concerns” about the precedent set by the case.
“Is it the role of this court to act as super-scrivener, correcting the apparent errors in business judgment committed by insurers? With all due respect to the majority, I submit that this is not a proper role for this body,” he wrote.
John R. Fenstermacher, the lawyer for Smith’s estate, said the decision was based on “rather tortured reasoning” that could affect other people’s insurance coverage.
“Basically what they’ve decided is, you and I have an icy sidewalk and we don’t remove our ice within the required 24 hours and somebody falls, (then it’s as if) we don’t have insurance,” he said. A decision about whether to pursue further appeals has not been made, he said.
Kori A. Connelly, a lawyer for Minnesota Fire and Casualty, did not immediately return an Associated Press telephone message seeking comment.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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