Appeals court sides with insurer against Missouri student

Note to student-athletes who hitch a ride to the state tournament to watch teammates compete: You may not be insured.

A federal court in Missouri has denied an appeal from a former Odessa High School wrestler who wanted Mutual of Omaha to cover medical expenses for injuries he suffered while not competing in the 2009 state high school wrestling tournament.

Kalee DeAtley did not qualify for the tournament, but he was allowed to accompany others who did “because he was a senior and had worked hard throughout the year,” according to the ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal.

“The night before the tournament, after traveling on the bus with the wrestling team to Columbia, DeAtley suffered a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding while ‘horsing around’ with other non-qualifying students in his hotel room,” the ruling stated.

DeAtley filed a claim for benefits under a policy that Mutual of Omaha had written for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, which sponsored the tournament.

After the company denied the claim, DeAtley sued, arguing that the policy’s language covering anyone “participating in interscholastic competition” should be interpreted “in its broadest sense, including participation in any manner, whether (as a) competitor or otherwise,” according to the ruling.

But a U.S. district judge in Kansas City and the appeals court in St. Louis sided with the insurance company, saying the policy covered only those actually participating in the tournament.

“DeAtley’s failure to qualify for the wrestling tournament precluded him from participating in the tournament as an athlete,” appeals judges wrote. “DeAtley’s only role at the tournament was as a spectator, and thus he was not participating in the wrestling tournament as a student-athlete.”