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When a driver intentionally crashes a car in an attempt to commit suicide, an injured passenger cannot collect any insurance benefits because the collision was not an “accident,” a federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled. “An attempted suicide, if intentional, is an act for which there can be no insurance coverage in Pennsylvania under an automobile liability policy,” U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Harvey Bartle III wrote in his eight-page opinion in State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co. v. Sinsel. On Aug. 21, 1999, Matthew Sinsel drove his father’s Hyundai Excel directly into a telephone pole. Both Sinsel and his passenger, Cynthia Funk, sustained serious injuries. Thomas Sinsel’s policy with State Farm provided $100,000 in liability coverage per person, capped at $300,000; medical coverage of $10,000; uninsured motorist coverage of $15,000/$30,000; and $50,000 in property-damage coverage. But State Farm filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that neither Sinsel nor Funk is entitled to any liability coverage, medical coverage or UM/UIM benefits due to the intentional nature of the crash. In court papers, State Farm’s lawyers said that both Matthew Sinsel and Funk had written suicide notes and left them for their families on the night of the incident. They also noted that Sinsel later testified that he drove into the telephone pole to commit suicide. But Funk’s lawyer argued that she was not trying to kill herself and that she was in Sinsel’s car only because she was trying to stop him from committing suicide. Judge Bartle found that the coverage issue turned solely on Sinsel’s state of mind. “By Sinsel’s own admission, his driving the car into the telephone pole was an intentional act to take his own life. The collision was therefore not ’caused by accident’ and there can be no recovery under the liability portion of the policy,” Bartle wrote. Funk insisted that the collision was accidental from her perspective since she did not intend to commit suicide and that she is therefore entitled to uninsured motorist benefits. Bartle disagreed, saying that Funk’s own state of mind was irrelevant to the question of coverage. “The crucial inquiry is whether the Sinsel car qualifies as an uninsured motor vehicle under the policy,” Bartle wrote. The policy clearly excludes the Sinsel car, he said, since it is the very vehicle for which the policy was secured. Funk’s request of UM benefits also contradicts public policy, Bartle found, since Pennsylvania has a well-established policy of disallowing insurance coverage for intentional acts. “Allowing Funk to recover uninsured motorist benefits because the liability and medical payments coverage of the policy were denied due to the intentional nature of Sinsel’s conduct would essentially be providing insurance coverage for Sinsel’s attempted suicide. We decline to do so,” Bartle wrote.

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