Charter Oak Life Insurance Company v. Rodel

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Charter Oak Life Insurance Company v. Rodel by Joseph P. Bradley
Syllabus
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

95 U.S. 232

CHARTER OAK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY  v.  RODEL

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Missouri.

This was an action on a policy, issued by the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company, upon the life of Emil G. Rodel, for the benefit of his wife, the plaintiff below. The policy was dated June 25, 1873, and contained a promise to pay to the plaintiff, 'for her sole and separate use and benefit, ninety days after due notice and satisfactory evidence of the death of the said Emil G. Rodel and of the just claim of the assured (or proof of interest, if assigned or held as security), under this policy, has been received and approved by the company.' It further contained, among other conditions, the following: that, in case the said Emil G. Rodel should 'die by his own hand,' the policy should be void. It was conceded that he died on the fifth day of December, 1873, from the effects of poison administered by his own hand; and this fact was set up in the answer, by way of defence: but the plaintiff in her replication averred that he was insane at the time, and not in possession of his mental faculties, and and not responsible, in consequence, for his act; and denied that he committed suicide or died by his own hand, within the meaning and intention of the policy. Whether the deceased was insane or not when he took the poison was the principal issue in the cause. The company, however, in its answer, made another issue, by denying that it had ever received due notice and satisfactory evidence of the death of Rodel and of the just claim of the plaintiff under the policy; averring that the only proof and notice it had received from the plaintiff of Rodel's death, and of her claim under the policy, had been and was to the effect that 'said Emil G. Rodel committed suicid at about 6.35 o'clock, P.M., Friday, Dec. 5, 1873, in a saloon on north-east corner of Eleventh and Market Streets, in the city and county of St. Louis., Mo., by taking poison,' as appeared from the certificate of the coroner accompanying and making part of said notice and proof received by the company, without any other proof of the death or of the circumstances thereof. The plaintiff in her replication averred, as she had done in her petition, that due notice and proof of his death and of her claim had been given, according to the terms of the policy.

On the trial, the plaintiff first put in evidence the policy, and the proofs of death which had been served on the company. The latter were in the usual form, but accompanied by the coroner's certificate, stating the cause of death as alleged in the answer. They were objected to as insufficient, the company contending that, by the policy itself, satisfactory notice and proof of death and of the just claim of the assured was a condition precedent to the right of demanding payment, and, consequently, to the right of bringing suit on the policy.

The court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence, and the company excepted.

There was a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for $5,130; whereupon the company brought the case here.

The other facts in the case, and the instruction given and those refused, are set forth in the opinion of the court.

Mr. Samuel Knox for the plaintiff in error.

The proofs of death and of the claim of the plaintiff below, furnished the company, are wholly insufficient to charge it in this action. The requirements of the policy in that respect are a condition precedent, and must be strictly complied with. Bliss, Life Ins. (2d ed.), sect. 257; May, Ins., sect. 465; O'Reilly v. Guardian Mut. Life Insurance Co., 60 N. Y. 169; Taylor v. AEtna Life Insurance Co., 13 Gray (Mass.), 434; Woodfin v. Asheville Mut. Life Insurance Co., 6 Jones (N. C.), L. 558; Columbia Insurance Co. v. Lawrence, 2 Pet. 25; Campbell v. Charter Oak Fire and Marine Insurance Co., 10 Allen (Mass.), 213; Edgerly v. Farmers' Insurance Co., 43 Iowa, 587; Johnson v. Phoenix Insurance Co., 112 Mass. 49.

The plaintiff herself notified the defendant that the insured died by his own hand; yet she failed to furnish with the preliminary proofs, as to her just claim under the policy, the slightest evidence that at the time of the suicide he was so far insane as to relieve his act from the consequences provided in the policy.

The company was therefore justified in refusing to pay, upon evidence neither satisfactory nor sufficient to show any thing except that the company was not liable upon the policy, and that the suit could not be maintained. Insurance Company v. Newton, 22 Wall. 32; Campbell v. Charter Oak Fire and Marine Insurance Co., supra; Braunstein v. Accidental Death Insurance Co., 1 B. & S. 782; 1 Greenl. Evid., sect. 2.

The court erred in refusing to direct a verdict for the defendant at the close of the plaintiff's case. 2 Greenl. Evid., sects. 372, 373; Bliss, Life Ins. (2d ed.), sect. 367; 2 Bishop, Cr. Proc. (2d ed.), sects. 669-673; Coffey v. Home Life Insurance Co., 35 N. Y. Sup. Ct. 314; Weed v. Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co., id. 386; Knickerbocker Life Insurance Co. v. Peters, 42 Md. 414; Merritt v. Cotton States Life Insurance Co., 55 Ga. 103; McClure v. Mut. Life Insurance Co., 55 N. Y. 651; Ray, Med. Jur. of Ins. (5th ed.), sect. 488; 2 Taylor, Med. Jur. (2d ed.) 637; Phadenhauer v. Germania Life Insurance Co., 7 Heisk. (Tenn.) 567; Fowler v. Mut. Life Insurance Co., 4 Lans. (N. Y.) 202; Moore v. Connecticut Mut. Life Insurance Co., 4 Bigl. L. Ins. R. 138; Coverston v. Connecticut Mut. Life Insurance Co., id. 169; American Life Insurance Co. v. Isett's Adm'r, 74 Pa. St. 167; Borradaile v. Hunter, 5 Sco. N. R. 418; Dufaur v. Professional Life Assurance Co., 25 Beav. 599; State v. Stickley, 41 Iowa, 232; State v. Felter, 25 id. 67, Dean v. American Mut. Life Insurance Co., 4 Allen (Mass.), 96; De Gogorza v. Knickerbocker Life Insurance Co., 65 N. Y. 232; Gay v. Union Mut. Life Insurance Co., 9 Blatchf. 142, Hathaway v. National Life Insurance Co., 48 Vt. 335; Equitable Life Assurance Society v. Paterson, 41 Ga. 338; Commonwealth v. Mosler, 4 Pa. St. 264; Cooper v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Insurance Co., 102 Mass. 227; Terry v. Life Insurance Company, 1 Dill. 403; Van Zandt v. Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, 55 N. Y. 169; St. Louis Life Insurance Co. v. Graves, 6 Bush (Ky.), 268; Insurance Company v. Terry, 15 Wall. 580; Breasted v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Co., 4 Hill (N. Y.), 73; Easterbrook v. Union Mutual Life Co., 54 Me. 224.

Whether there is any evidence, or, if there is, whether it is sufficient to sustain the burden of proof on any issue, is always a question of law for the court. Pleasants v. Fant, 22 Wall. 116; Improvement Company v. Munson, 14 id. 442; Schuchardt v. Allens, 1 id. 359; Commissioners, &c. v. Clark, 94 U.S. 284.

The judgment should be reversed, because of the manifest error committed by the court in refusing the several instructions to the jury requested by the defendant. 1 Greenl. Evid., sect. 2; Insurance Company v. Newton, 22 Wall. 32; Campbell v. Charter Oak Fire and Marine Insurance Co., 10 Allen (Mass.), 213; Braunstein v. Accidental Death Insurance Co., 1 B. & S. 782; Van Zandt v. Mut. Benefit Life Insurance Co., 55 N. Y. 169; McClure v. Mut. Life Insurance Co., id. 651; Fowler v. Same, 4 Lans. (N. Y.) 202; Merritt v. Cotton States Life Insurance Co., 55 Ga. 103.

The charge of Mr. Justice Miller, in Terry v. Life Insurance Co., 1 Dill. 1, was sustained in 15 Wall. 580, on the ground that it was applicable to the case made by the evidence. But it will not be contended that this court held that such a charge would be proper in every case, or provide the full and complete test of the effect of suicide under all the changing circumstances of each particular case, on policies of life insurance, where, perhaps for the double purpose of rescuing the memory of the dead from obloquy, and of abstracting from the coffers of a corporation a part of its wealth, it is claimed that the deceased came to his death through insanity.

A charge, giving statements of law, however unexceptionable as abstract propositions, is erroneous, if they are not applicable to the case, as they tend to mislead the jury. Clarke v. Dutcher, 9 Cow. (N. Y.) 674; Wardell v. Hughes, 3 Wend. (N. Y.) 418; Beaver v. Taylor, 1 Wall. 637; United States v. Brietling, 20 How. 252; Goodman v. Simonds, id. 343; Dubois v. Lord, 5 Watts (Pa.), 49; Haines v. Stouffer, 10 Pa. St. 363.

Mr. John D. S. Dryden, contra.

The court below did not err in overruling the objection of the defendant to the proofs of death. The court was, in effect, asked to decide, as matter of law, that suicide absolutely avoided the liability of the company, thus determining the whole issue without evidence of the condition of the insured as to sanity or insanity at the time of his death. The court was also asked to decide that it rested with the defendant alone to determine its responsibility, by saying what was or what was not satisfactory proof of death.

No objection was made to the proofs of death other than that they showed that the insured had committed suicide.

The court did not err in overruling the defendant's request to take from the jury the evidence on the question of the insanity of the insured. If there is any evidence, it must go to the jury. Brown v. Lozalere, 44 Mo. 383; Routsong v. Pacific R ilroad Company, 45 id. 236; McFarland v. Bellows, 49 id. 311.

Nor was there error in the refusal of the court to charge as requested by the defendant, or in the charge as given. Life Insurance Company v. Terry, 15 Wall. 580.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).