Aetna Life Insurance Company v. Ward

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

140 U.S. 76

Aetna Life Insurance Company  v.  Ward

The defendant in error, Ada Ward, formerly Ada Davey, was the wife of William A. Davey, of Jersey City, N. J, and the beneficiary named in a policy of life insurance issued by the plaintiff in error on the life of Mr. Davey for the sum of $10,000, dated July 16, 1879. Mr. Davey died on the 6th of August, 1881, at Alexandria Bay, N. Y., and within 90 days thereafter, to-wit, August 1, 1 881, his widow gave to the company due notice and proofs of his death, as required by the terms of the policy, and demanded payment of the amount named therein, which was refused, and thereupon this action was brought. So far as the present status of the case is concerned, the defense to the action is that there was a breach of that condition in the policy on the part of Mr. Davey, which provided that if he 'shall become so far intemperate as to impair his health or induce delirium tremens,' then the policy should become null and void. On the trial of the case, before Judge GREEN and a jury, the plaintiff, to maintain the issue on her part, introduced evidence showing the death of Mr. Davey, and also certain papers constituting proofs of loss, including the certificate of death of the deceased by Dr. Rae, the family physician. In this certificate the following questions and answers occur: '(3) Was his last illness occasioned, or had his general health been impaired, by any pernicious habits? Answer. He was in the habit of using stimulants and a great deal of tobacco. Probably they impaired his health.' '(5) Was his health impaired by intemperance? A. See answer to 3. 6. Was his death caused, directly or indirectly, from intemperance? See answer to 3.' The plaintiff thereupon rested her case. The defendant introduced the evidence of a large number of witnesses to prove the breach of the above-mentioned condition in the policy. All of them were associated with him while he was at Alexandria Bay,-most of them boatmen engaged in rowing on the St. Lawrence river, clerks and keepers of hotels, a bell-boy, the physician who attended him in his last illness, and two medical experts. The evidence of these witnesses was to the following effect: In the evening of the 24th of July, 1881, Mr. Davey arrived at Alexandria Bay, on the St. Lawrence river, on his annual fishing excursion to that place, and put up at the Crossman House. He seemed at that time to be in delicate health; and one of the witnesses at least testified that he shuffled in his walk while going up to the hotel. From that date up until Monday, August the 1st, William White, the boatman, testifies that the deceased was on the river every day with him, from 8 or 9 A. M. until the middle of the afternoon or in the evening, and that while on the river the deceased drank about a quart of brandy daily. In addition thereto, according to the testimony of the bell-boy at the hotel, the saloon-keeper and several boatmen, he drank at the bar of the Crossman House every evening, quite freely, and sometimes in the norning before breakfast; and frequently went across the river to Lockport, and to another place known as the 'Island View House,' kept by one Theodore Lear, and drank heavily of brandy at both places, as testified to by the respective keepers and bar-tenders of those hotels. The bell-boy at the Crossman House testifies that very often during the period mentioned he had several drinks sent to his room in the evening, and sometimes in the morning; and that on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 2d, at the request of Mr. Davey, he carried two quart bottles of liquor to his room,-one of brandy or whisky and the other of gin. On going to his room on the morning of Wednesday, the 3d of August, the bell-boy says those two bottles were empty, and Mr. Davey was sitting in bed in a very weak and nervous condition, his clothing and the bed clothing spattered with blood, and there was considerable blood in the slop-jar beside the bed. The bell-boy notified the proprietor of the hotel of the affair, and he, together with Frank Bruce, a clerk at the hotel, (who was then studying medicine, and has since graduated in that science, and is now a practicing physician,) went to Davey's room. They at once sent for Dr. L. C. Watson, a practicing physician at that place. Dr. Watson testified that Davey said to him that he had been cautioned by his family physician that if he persisted in 'having these times' he would have hemorrhage of the stomach, which would probably kill him. And then looking at the blood, he said: 'There is the blood, and I suppose it is all up with me now.' Bruce and Dale also testified that Davey complained of seeing pitch, fire, and smoke in the room when none existed; and Bruce further testified that Davey imagined that somebody was trying to saw off his limbs, and that there was a heavy pipe lying across his chest, and exhibited various other symptoms usual in cases of acute alcoholism or delirium tremens. At times he was quite violent, called continually for liquor, but by and by calmed down very materially, so that by the time his family physician, Dr. Rae, and Mrs. Davey arrived, he had sunk into a state of exhaustion and quietude.

The evidence on the part of the defense tended to show that Davey's death was superinduced by an excessive use of ardent spirits, which broght on delirium tremens; and the evidence of two physicians who were examined as experts was to the effect that the symptoms described indicated that Mr. Davey suffered from delirium tremens, and that any one drinking brandy to the extent he did, as testified to by the witnesses for the defense, would greatly impair his health, and bring about death. The evidence in rebuttal was given by witnesses who had been acquaintances, neighbors, business associates, intimate friends, and members of his family, who stated that they were famillar with his habits of life. Their evidence was to the effect that no sign of intoxication or intemperate use of liquor was ever seen by them during a period of many years immediately preceding his death, though all spoke of his constant use, in a moderate degree, of alcoholic liquors. The result is that the evidence of witnesses who were associated with the deceased at Alexandria Bay is inconsistent with the idea of a moderate use of liquor by him, or with any idea other than that his last illness and death were due to excessive drinking of alcoholic liquors; while on the other hand the evidence of his neighbors, friends, business associates, and family was, though, in one sense, of a negative character, to the effect that his whole course of conduct and habits were at variance with the course of life pursued by him just before his death, as testified to by the witnesses for the defense. One witness only for the plaintiff, a Mr. Mattoon, an elderly gentleman, saw Davey at Alexandria Bay in the summer of 1881, before he was taken violently ill. He did not stop at the same hotel as Davey, but saw him five or six times for short periods of 30 minutes or more, between the date of his arrival, July 23d, and July 31st, at all of which times he was apparently sober. Dr. Rae, the family physician, who furnished the certificate of death, arrived at Alexandria Bay about noon on Friday, the 4th, and left about 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the following day, before Davey died. At the trial, among other things, he testified that when he arrived he found Davey in a dying condition, but when questioned as to the cause of death he adhered to the statements made in the certificate of death furnished by him, testifying on this point as follows: 'You certified that he was in the habit of using stimulants? Answer. Yes, sir. Question. And that was true? A. Yes, sir. Q. And by stimulants you wish us to understand alcoholic liquor? A. Yes, sir. Q. And when you say, 'probably they impaired his health,' that was your opinion at that time? A. Yes, sir. Q. You don't deny that it was your judgment that they impaired his health? A. They mean tobacco and liquor together. Q. I ask you about stimulants,-nothing about tobacco. You don't deny that in your judgment they impaired his health? A. I said they probably did. Q. I don't ask you what you said in your certificate, and if you will pay attention to the question we will get along faster. You don't deny that it is your judgment that they impaired his health, do you? A. No, sir. Q. You adhere to the statements hat are contained in the certificate? A. Yes, sir; as far as I know.' There was also some evidence given by Mrs. Davey, over the objections of the defendant, to the effect that Mr. Davey took stimulants upon the advice of a Dr. Kellerman, of New York city, since deceased, quite frequently during the day; and that for several years previous to his death Mr. Davey had been suffering from lung trouble, at several times having had hemorrhages. At the close of the testimony, which was quite voluminous, the defendant requested the court to direct the jury to bring in a verdict in its favor, but this the court refused to do, and the defendant excepted. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for the full amount of the policy, and, judgment having been entered on the verdict, the defendant prosecuted this writ of error.

Wayne MacVeagh and Theron G. Strong, for plaintiff in error.

John Linn and Cortlandt Parker, for defendant in error.

LAMAR, J., after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.


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).