95 U.S. 232 (1877), Charter Oak Life Ins. Co. v. Rodel

Citation:95 U.S. 232, 24 L.Ed. 433
Case Date:November 19, 1877
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 232

95 U.S. 232 (1877)

24 L.Ed. 433




United States Supreme Court.

November 19, 1877


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 suicide 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.

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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

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v. Accidental Death Insurance Co., 1 B. & S. 782; 1 Greenl. Evid., sect. 2.

The court...

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