Insurance Companies v. Weides/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

81 U.S. 375

Insurance Companies  v.  Weides


It is contended in the first place, that there was error in the court's receiving the entry of the footings upon the fly-leaf of the new ledger. It will be observed that the footings upon the fly-leaf of the ledger were not offered or received as independent evidence. They were accompanied by proof that they were correct statements of the values of the merchandise, and that they were correctly transcribed either from the inventory book or from the fly-leaf of the exhausted ledger, both of which appear to have been originals. How far papers, not evidence per se, but proved to have been true statements of fact, at the time they were made, are admissible in connection with the testimony of a witness who made them, has been a frequent subject of inquiry, and it has many times been decided that they are to be received. And why should they not be? Quantities and values are retained in the memory with great difficulty. If at the time when an entry of aggregate quantities or values was made, the witness knew it was correct, it is hard to see why it is not at least as reliable as is the memory of the witness. It is true a copy of a copy is not generally receivable, for the reason that it is not the best evidence. A copy of the original is less likely to contain mistakes, for there is more or less danger of variance with every new transcription. For that reason even a sworn copy of a copy is not admissible when the original can be produced. But in this case the inventory book and the fly-leaf of the exhausted ledger had both been burned. There was no better evidence in existence than the footings in the new ledger. And we do not understand the bill of exceptions as showing those footings to have been copied from a copy. It does not appear whether they were taken from the inventory book or from the fly-leaf of the old ledger. And it is of little importance, for as those entries were made at the same time, neither ought to be regarded as a copy of the other, but rather both should be considered originals. We do not, however, propose to discuss this exception at length, for we regard it as settled by the decision in Insurance Company v. Weide, [*] that the evidence under the circumstances was properly received.

The second and third exceptions are disposed of by what we have already said, and they are unsustained.

There is nothing also in the fourth exception. By the policies the assured after furnishing proofs of loss were bound, if required, to submit to an examination under oath, and it was stipulated that until such examination should be permitted the loss should not be payable. Of course it is to be understood that the examination contemplated relates to matters pertinent to the loss. In these cases the plaintiffs did submit to an examination, but declined to answer questions respecting the amounts for which they had made settlements with other insuring companies. We are unable to perceive that the questions proposed had any legitimate bearing upon the inquiry, what was the actual loss sustained in consequence of the fire. If the plaintiffs had claims upon other insurers, and compromised with some of them for less than the sums insured, it is not a just inference that their claim against these insurers was exaggerated. A compromise proposed or accepted is not evidence of an admission of the amount of the debt. There was then no sufficient foundation laid for the instruction requested by the defendants, that if the jury should believe that the plaintiffs, or either of them, in the course of an examination on oath, under the policies, refused to answer any questions by which the defendants could fairly estimate, or reasonably infer plaintiffs' real loss in the insured property, and had not before the commencement of the actions answered the questions under oath, the verdict must be for the defendants. There was no evidence of refusal to answer such questions.

The fifth exception is to the refusal of the court to instruct the jury that if they believed from the evidence the plaintiffs were requested by the defendants to produce duplicates of invoices of goods purchased by them, the originals of which were alleged by them to be destroyed, and neglected to do so before the commencement of the actions, their right of action never accrued, and that the verdicts must be for the defendants. The prayer for this instruction was founded on the clause in the policy that the assured should produce certified copies of all bills and invoices, the originals of which had been lost, and exhibit the same for examination to any person named by the company, and that until the proofs, declarations, and certificates (stipulated for in case of loss) were produced and examinations and appraisals permitted, the loss should not be payable. The bills of exception state that there was evidence tending to show that the plaintiffs were requested to produce duplicate bills of purchases, but there does not appear to have been any evidence when the request was made, whether before the commencement of the actions or afterwards, or whether there was neglect or refusal of the plaintiffs to comply. Moreover, the request was for duplicates, and not for certified copies. We cannot, therefore, say there was error in refusing the instruction asked for.

Nor was there error in denying the defendants' third and fourth prayers. It is true the policies stipulated that fraud or false swearing on the part of the assured should work a forfeiture of all claim under them. The false swearing referred to is such as may be in the submission of preliminary proofs of loss, or in the examination to which the assured agreed to submit. But it does not inevitably follow from the fact that there was a material discrepancy between the statements made by the plaintiffs under oath in their proofs of loss, and their statements when testifying at the trial that the former were false, so as to justify the court in assuming it, and directing verdicts for the defendants. It may have been the testimony last given that was not true, or the statements made in the proofs of loss may have been honestly made, though subsequently discovered to be mistaken. It is only fraudulent false swearing in furnishing the preliminary proofs, or in the examinations which the insurers have a right to require, that avoids the policies, and it was for the jury to determine whether that swearing was false and fraudulent.

The remaining two assignments of error are not pressed, and it is properly conceded that the court could not lay down as a rule of law the mode of computation designated it the prayers for instruction.

JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.

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).