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Published June 07 2012

Widow sues over NRA's refusal to pay out life insurance

SHAKOPEE, Minn. – A Minnesota widow is suing the National Rifle Association because it refused to pay out on a life insurance policy after her husband was killed in a tractor rollover on their farm.

John Balk died while using his John Deere tractor to do some landscaping work on his farm near Belle Plaine, about 50 miles southwest of St. Paul, in 2010. A report from the Scott County Sheriff’s Department said Balk, 59, was pinned underneath the tractor and died at the scene.

Just 10 months earlier, Balk, an NRA member, had bought a life insurance policy from the organization, naming his wife, Annalee, as the beneficiary of $150,000.

The NRA refused to pay the death benefit and said the policy excluded payment if the death resulted from operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Annalee Balk argued her late husband’s John Deere tractor doesn’t fall within the state statute’s definition of a motor vehicle.

“They claimed he was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, but the exclusion that’s being used wasn’t meant to exclude farm accidents,” said Todd Coryell, Annalee Balk’s attorney.

A doctor who performed an autopsy at the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office in Hastings ruled Balk’s death accidental, but listed “acute ethanol intoxication” as a contributing factor.

On appeal, the NRA again denied the claim, saying that a policy rider excluded it from having to pay for any loss “incurred while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol as evidence by blood alcohol level in excess of the state legal intoxication limit.”

Michael Berger, a Minneapolis lawyer representing the NRA, declined to comment on the ongoing case.

The lawsuit was originally filed in state court in Scott County, but was transferred to U.S. District Court this week at the NRA’s request, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.