A man who died while strangling himself for sexual gratification didn't mean to take his life in his own hands, a federal appeals court ruled.
In a 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found David Critchlow's mother is entitled to death benefits because her son didn't mean to injure himself while engaging in autoerotic asphyxiation, The New York Law Journal reported yesterday.
The ruling is believed to be the first of its kind.
Critchlow, 32, died in 1999 after placing a noose around his neck to restrict the amount of oxygen flowing to his brain in order to enhance his sexual pleasure.
"He retired to his locked bedroom in his parents' empty house, disrobed completely and attached an intricate, homemade harness consisting of ropes, weights and counterweights leading to a noose around his neck," the judges' earlier decision found.
He'd had a number of "escape mechanisms" attached to the apparatus, but they apparently didn't work or weren't used when Critchlow became lightheaded.
Insurance company First Unum had denied Critchlow's mother Shirley's request for benefits, finding his death was the result of an intentional "self-inflicted injury."
Shirley Critchlow filed suit, claiming the injury wasn't intentional because her son had committed the bizarre practice for years without incident. Her suit was dismissed by a federal court judge — a ruling upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision last year.
"That decedent had engaged in this very activity on prior occasions without apparently serious or permanent adverse consequences does not mean that the activity did not injure him, nor does the fact that he did not intend to die make the injury any less intentional," Judge Ellsworth Van Graafeiland wrote at the time, noting that an estimated 2,000 people a year die from autoerotic asphyxiation.
In a rare move, the court reversed itself this week, when one of the three appeals judges, Barrington Parker Jr., changed his mind.
The new decision said the mom should get benefits because Critchlow's death "was subjectively unexpected and unintended" and there's no evidence "autoerotic asphyxiation, if practiced without accident, constitutes an injury rather than simply producing a temporary lightheadedness that the practitioner believes will increase his sexual gratification."
In his dissent, Van Graafeiland said they got it right the first time.
"Until someone whose opinion I respect honestly informs me that as a general proposition, he or she would not hesitate to undergo a session of autoerotic asphyxiation through strangulation, I will not change my mind," he wrote.