Judge Orders Insurer to Pay For Autoerotic Asphyxia Death

CHICAGO (CN) — A man’s death by autoerotic asphyxia was accidental and did not arise from self-inflicted injuries, a federal judge ruled Monday, ordering an insurer to pay accidental death benefits to his widow after it initially denied her claim.

Linno Llenos, 56, was found hanging from his basement rafters in August 2016 with a towel and rope wrapped around his neck. Wilmette Police officers responded to a call that he had committed suicide.

A medical examiner concluded that Llenos died from autoerotic asphyxia, a sexual act that involves cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain during masturbation to heighten pleasure. The medical examiner reached that opinion because of the presence of a release mechanism to prevent strangulation and four rubber genital rings.

Minnesota Life Insurance paid Llenos’ widow Letran Tran $517,000 in life insurance benefits, but denied her claim for $60,000 in accidental death benefits as beneficiary of her husband’s policy.

The insurer explained its decision in a December 2016 letter. While the death was an accident, Llenos did not commit suicide, and was “engaged in an activity which was pleasurable to him when an unfortunate accident occurred.” It was not an “accidental injury” but a self-inflicted injury, which was excluded under terms of the policy, the insurer said.

“Although perhaps more unusual, autoerotic asphyxiation is no different than sky-diving, motorcycle riding, or sailing, in that they are activities people take part in for enjoyment, but which may conceivably lead to their death in the event of accident,” the letter stated.

Tran sued Minnesota Life in January 2017.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow sided with the widow, ruling that Llenos’s death by strangulation was accidental and did not arise from an intentional injury.

Dow wrote that while the sexual act could lead to “loss of consciousness and strangulation” and is “undoubtedly risky,” it does not always lead to strangulation or death.

Minnesota Life did not dispute that the death was accidental, the judge noted, and any ambiguities in the policy must be interpreted in favor of granting Tran’s request for benefits.

“Since plaintiff’s loss of consciousness and resultant strangling were the direct cause of his death, defendant cannot logically argue that these results were substantially certain to result from his conduct, while at the same time conceding that plaintiff did not intend to kill himself,” Dow ruled.

He granted Tran summary judgment.

Jeff Bakken, a spokesman for the insurer’s parent company Securian Financial Group, said the company does not comment on litigation.

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