A Case Summary of Jantzen Estate v TD Life Insurance Company

Written by: Zachary A. Fischer


The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently released its decision in Jantzen Estate v TD Life Insurance Company dismissing an appeal over the refusal to payout insurance policies after the policy holder’s death. The case centered on whether the insurance companies (TD and Canada Life) could properly deny coverage to Mr. Jantzen’s estate after he died by overdose. The basis for the denial of coverage was that the policies contained exclusion clauses denying benefit where the policy holder’s death was related to criminal activity. Specifically, when the death was a result of, or occurred while committing a criminal offence.

Lower Court Rejects Estate’s Claim

Joshua Jantzen died in 2018. His death was ruled an accidental overdose caused by cocaine and alcohol.[2] At the time of his death, Mr. Jantzen had debts with TD, a mortgage and a Line of Credit. Those loans were both insured. After his death, Mr. Jantzen’s estate attempted to collect payment under the insurance coverage, however, the insurers denied that coverage. The denial came from exclusionary clauses in the policies that stated payment would not be made when death was a result of or while committing a criminal offence.[3]

The estate commenced an action to collect the coverage owed. The case was decided by way of summary judgement with the Court hearing the matter siding with the insurers and dismissing the action. The court broke down the exclusionary clauses into multiple circumstances where coverage could be denied. The two main ones being where the death was a result of committing the criminal offence and where the death occurred while committing the criminal offence.[4] These were termed the “Result Exclusion” and the “While Exclusion”.

Regarding Result Exclusion, the Court noted that possession of cocaine did not inevitably lead to ingestion. Therefore, it could not be said Mr. Jantzen died as a result of possessing cocaine (the criminal offence) and the exclusionary clause could not then apply in that respect.[5] However, with respect to While Exclusion, the Court found that because Mr. Jantzen had cocaine on him when he died, he was committing the criminal act of possession under s. 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.[6] Even if only trace amounts were found.[7] Thus, by committing the crime of possession while he died, the exclusion clauses applied. This was enough to dispose of the claim.

Court of Appeal Agrees but for Opposite Reasons

The Estate’s appeal centred on whether the Court erred in interpreting the application of the exclusionary clauses and whether payment was properly denied. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal specifically looked at the application of the Result Exclusion and the While Exclusion. Their decision agreed with the judge in result but for different reasons.

In looking at whether the While Exclusion applied, the Appellate Court looked at if the clauses applied simply because of the presence of a criminal offence at the time of death. The Appellate Court found that the mere coincidence of a crime taking place and an insured’s death is not enough for the exclusionary clauses to apply.[8] While the time of death and commission of a crime must coincide there must also be some other nexus linking the two events. Therefore, the judge erred in finding that because Mr. Jantzen died with trace amounts of cocaine on him, coverage could properly be denied.[9] However, the Appellate Court decided to leave for another day what else would be required for the While Exclusion to apply as they could dispose of this appeal based on the Result Exclusion alone.

In assessing the application of the Result Exclusion, the Appellate Court found that the judge did not properly interpret that part of the clauses. The judge’s conclusion, that because ingestion was not a crime then it could not be said that Mr. Jantzen died from his possession of cocaine, was too restrictive.[10] The Appellate Court ruled that the correct approach was to use a “but for” analysis. Therefore, but for the fact that he possessed cocaine, Mr. Jantzen could not have consumed it and overdosed. It did not matter if he intended to overdose or not. What was required was a causal connection between the crime and death.[11] Since that causal connection was made out in this case then the exclusionary clauses applied, and the insurer denied the covered properly. The Appellate Court did note that there is likely a point where the causal connection becomes too distant for an exclusionary clause to apply, however, they declined to address that question in this case.[12]

Application of the Ruling Going Forward

Insurance companies and lawyers will have an interest in the outcome of this case. While a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling is binding in that province, its unanimous ruling could be persuasive for Courts in other jurisdictions. This ruling affirms the circumstances under which an insurer could deny coverage under exclusionary clauses in cases where criminal activity is involved. This decision has also broken down the application of those clauses for courts and other interested parties to better understand their operation. However, the ruling appears to leave some questions unanswered. First, what requirements or nexus (besides a temporal one) must exist for the While Exclusion to apply? And second, when does the causal link between a crime and the death of an insured become too remote for the Result Exclusion to apply?


[1] Jantzen Estate v TD Life Insurance Company, 2023 SKCA 76 [Jantzen].

[2] Ibid at para 7.

[3] Ibid at para 9.

[4] Ibid at para 11.

[5] Ibid at para 16.

[6] Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19, s 4(1).

[7] Jantzen, supra note 1 at paras 13 &14.

[8] Ibid at para 48.

[9] Ibid at para 56.

[10] Ibid at paras 65-67.

[11] Ibid at para 66 & 68.

[12] Ibid at para 75.