167 A. 873 (N.J.Super.Ch. 1933), Papp v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

Citation:167 A. 873, 113 N.J.Eq. 522
Opinion Judge:BACKES, V. C.
Party Name:JOHN PAPP, complainant, v. METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a New York corporation, defendant
Attorney:Mr. Gustav L. Goldstein, for the complainant. Messrs. McCarter & English (Mr. Conover English), for the defendant.
Case Date:August 04, 1933
Court:Superior Court of New Jersey
 
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Page 873

167 A. 873 (N.J.Super.Ch. 1933)

113 N.J.Eq. 522

JOHN PAPP, complainant,

v.

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a New York corporation, defendant

Court of Chancery of New Jersey

August 4, 1933

On final hearing.

Mr. Gustav L. Goldstein, for the complainant.

Messrs. McCarter & English (Mr. Conover English), for the defendant.

OPINION

BACKES, V. C.

The defendant, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, issued a group life insurance policy to the John A. Roebling Sons Company of Trenton, upon the lives of its employes, entitling the beneficiary designated by the employe to $ 1,000 at death, and $ 2,000 if death be due to violence. A certificate issued under the policy to John Kish, an employe, who designated Charles Getz, uncle in Roumania, as beneficiary. Kish was injured by an automobile and died seven days later in a Trenton hospital, January 1st, 1930. The day before, he designated the complainant, John Papp, as beneficiary. The request for the change and the certificate reached the insurance [113 N.J.Eq. 523] company after Kish died. The insurance company, with notice of the change of beneficiary, paid Getz. The complainant as equitable beneficiary sues to compel a formal change of beneficiaries and to recover the insurance.

The objection that Kish was incompetent when he made the change of beneficiary is not sustained. Three days before he died pneumonia developed and on December 30th and 31st the disease was in full bloom, his temperature ranged around one hundred and four degrees, and he was desperately ill and at times semi-delirious, so much so that he tore off the splints from his injured arms, tried to remove those on his legs and it was difficult to keep him abed. The attending physician and his assistant expressed the opinion that with pneumonia and a temperature of one hundred and four degrees he was incapable of understanding the transaction. On the other hand, a specialist in this disease stated that temperature in pneumonia does not mean anything, is not an indication of delirium and that a patient an hour or two after delirium may be perfectly normal. On the 30th, when the doctors regarded him as semi-delirious and irresponsible, he made his confession and the priest says he was rational and clear of understanding, otherwise he would not and, in conscience, according to the laws of the church, could not have given him Holy Communion. When he signed the change of beneficiary the notary, a justice of the peace called in to prepare the document, realizing that Kish was very sick, examined him to satisfy himself of his competency. He testifies that he was properly orientated and that Kish was sensible of the affair in hand and expressed his wishes with intelligence. The apparent conflict may have for its solution that Kish could not speak English and the doctors may have, to some extent, misinterpreted his mutterings as the rambling of delirium, whereas with the priest and notary, who spoke his mother tongue, and the other witnesses -- fellow countrymen -- he was at home, and there was mutual comprehension. The principles that obtain in the execution of wills are applicable and a testament in the circumstances would not be denied probate for incompetence.

Page 874

[113 N.J.Eq. 524] The objection that the change of beneficicary was ineffectual, because incomplete, is sound at law, but not in equity. The policy reads:

"Section 9: Change of Beneficiary. -- Any employe insured hereunder may, from time to time, change the beneficiary by filing written notice thereof with the company accompanied by the certificate and certificate riders -- if any -- of such employe. Such change shall take effect upon endorsement thereof by the company on such certificate and certificate riders -- if any -- and unless the certificate and all certificate riders -- if any -- are so endorsed, the change shall not take effect. After such endorsement, the change shall relate back and take effect as of the date the employe signed said written notice of change, whether or not the employe be living at the time of such endorsement or not, but without prejudice to the company on account of any payment made by it before receipt of such written notice."

The day before the change was made, Kish signified his intention to Papp to substitute him as beneficiary, to secure a debt of $ 500, and when Papp and his two friends called at the hospital the next morning, they came prepared with a regulation form of substitution furnished by the insurance company. Kish told them to get Jacobs, the notary, whom he knew spoke his language. With Jacobs they went to the insurance company's local office in Trenton for instructions, and being informed that the certificate and the request must be sent to the company's home office...

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