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Texas Jury Finds LSD Did Not Cause Spinal Injury, Requires Occidental to Pay HO Limits

When does a hallucinogenic drug become the direct cause of a catastrophic injury, triggering a homeowners’ policy exclusion?

Not when a young man falls out of bed and is later moved by his comrades, potentially worsening a spinal injury, a Houston federal jury decided Tuesday. The verdict requires Occidental Fire & Casualty Co. of North Carolina to pay $1 million on a homeowner’s policy – despite the controlled-substance exclusion.

The jury in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found that the illicit drug LSD did not directly cause Christoffer Cox, a former high school gymnast, to fall from the bed while staying at a friend’s home in Texas one night in 2019. The homeowners’ attorneys argued that Occidental’s own amended complaint, filed in pursuit of a court declaration that the insurer had no duty to defend or indemnify, noted that Cox’ injury was caused in part by neglect and improper care after he had fallen from the bed.

“Nothing alleged in the original petition asserts Cox was injured as the result of the ingestion of LSD,” reads the homeowners’ answer to the complaint. “Occidental had a duty to defend under both the original petition and the first amended petition.”

Occidental, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and writing in multiple states, is a subsidiary of IAT Insurance Group. It issued a homeowners policy to Dirk and Andrea Zinkweg in 2019. The $1 million policy stated that it covered liability for injury and property damage and that Occidental would provide a defense, even if a suit was considered groundless.

The policy also contained an exclusion, denying coverage for injury or damage “arising out of the use, sale, manufacture, delivery, transfer or possession by any person of a controlled substance.” That included LSD, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs.

In the complaint and underlying lawsuit brought by Cox against the Zinkwegs, it was alleged that Cox and his friend Ryan Zinkweg ingested two squares of LSD around midnight, along with cannabis gummies. The two spent the night talking and laughing, both testified.

At some point, they said, Cox fell about two feet from the bed onto the floor, and yelped that he was unable to move. Zinkweg called another friend around dawn, who helped move Cox back into bed. Medical personnel were called and arrived about 11:45 a.m. Cox had suffered a complete cervical spinal cord injury, leaving him a quadriplegic, court documents explain.

“Zinkweg agrees that if he had not given Cox the drugs, Cox would not have been injured,” Occidental’s amended complaint reads.

Multiple witnesses, including medical and drug experts, testified. The jury disagreed with Occidental and unanimously found that the drugs did not cause the injury, essentially certifying that the HO policy had to cover the damages up to the $1 million limit.


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