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Court rules Alexandria man not entitled to insurance in death of 6-year-old

ALEXANDRIA -- An Alexandria man involved in a 2007 skid-loader accident that caused the death of his girlfriend's 6-year-old daughter has lost an appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

ALEXANDRIA -- An Alexandria man involved in a 2007 skid-loader accident that caused the death of his girlfriend's 6-year-old daughter has lost an appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

In a decision filed Wednesday, the Supreme Court affirmed Judge Sean O'Brien's earlier ruling that says Hanson Farm Mutual Insurance Co. of South Dakota does not have to defend or compensate Marcus Degen in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against him. The lawsuit was filed by his ex-girlfriend Tina Sellers for the 2007 death of her 6-year-old daughter Adrianna Sellers.

According to a Supreme Court summary of the case, Degen and Sellers met and developed a romantic relationship in 2006, and in February 2007, Degen purchased a home in Alexandria where he and Sellers, and Sellers' two children, lived.

To qualify for a home loan, Degen also bought a homeowner's insurance policy from Hanson Farm Mutual Insurance. The policy's personal liability coverage excluded, among others, any people younger than 21 in Degen's care.

Degen lived with and cared for Sellers' daughters, but never legally adopted them, the decision says.

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On Oct. 27, 2007, Degen was leveling dirt on his property with a skid-loader when he accidently hit and killed Adrianna. According to an Oct. 30, 2007, article in The Daily Republic, Degen was backing up when he struck Adrianna, who was playing nearby.

After the accident, Degen and Sellers, and her remaining daughter, all lived together for more than a year "until the difficulty in dealing with the accident caused the couple to split," the decision says.

After the breakup, Sellers filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Degen. Hanson Farm Mutual Insurance then asked the court to determine if it had any duty to defend or compensate Degen in the wrongful death lawsuit.

A June 19, 2012, court trial before Judge O'Brien resulted in a ruling in favor of the insurance company. O'Brien found Adrianna was excluded from coverage in Degen's homeowner's insurance because O'Brien determined -- despite Degen never legally adopting Adrianna -- that the 6-year-old was in Degen's care.

Degen and Sellers both appealed O'Brien's ruling to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court came to virtually the same conclusion as O'Brien had when it ruled that because Adrianna was in Degen's care when the accident occurred, she is excluded from his homeowner's insurance coverage.

Therefore, the decision says, the insurance company has no duty to compensate or defend Degen in the wrongful death lawsuit.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA
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