95 U.S. 754 (1878), Mobile Life Ins. Co. v. Brame

Citation:95 U.S. 754, 24 L.Ed. 580
Case Date:January 21, 1878
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 754

95 U.S. 754 (1878)

24 L.Ed. 580




United States Supreme Court.

January 21, 1878


ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana.

This is an action by the Mobile Life Insurance Company against Brame, to recover the sum of $7,000.

The plaintiff alleged that it insured the life of one Craven McLemore, a citizen of Louisiana, for that amount in favor of third parties; that on the 24th of October, 1875, while its policies were in force, Brame did, in the town of Delhi, in Louisiana, wilfully shoot said McLemore, and inflict upon him a mortal wound, from the effects of which he died on the twenty-sixth day of that month; that the shooting was an illegal and tortious act on the part of Brame, and caused damage to the plaintiff in the amount of the policies on the life of the deceased, which amount the plaintiff acknowledges to be due, and a part of which has been paid.

An exception of the defendant to the plaintiff's petition was sustained, and judgment rendered in his favor. The company then brought the case here.

The Revised Civil Code of Louisiana contains the following articles:----

'ART. 2314. Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another, obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it; the right of this action shall survive, in case of death, in favor of the minor children and widow of the deceased, or either of them, and in default of these, in favor of the surviving father or mother, or either of them, for the space of one year from the death.'

'ART. 2316. Every person is responsible for the damage he occasions, not merely by his act, but by his negligence, his imprudence, or his want of skill.'

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'ART. 2324. He who causes another person to do an unlawful act, or assists or encourages in the commission of it, is answerable in solido with that person for the damage caused by such act.'


Mr. Charles E. Fenner for the plaintiff in error.

The authorities agree that a man is responsible for any direct damage to another, resulting from his unlawful act. 1 Chitty on Plead., 125-130, 147; 1 Hilliard on Torts, 97; Field on Damages, sect. 599; Scott v. Shepherd, 2 Black., W. 892; Reynolds v. Clarke, Stra. 635; Salsbury v. Hershinroder, 106 Mass. 458; Smith v. Rutherford, 2 Serg. & R. (Pa.) 358; Mott v. Hudson River Railroad Co., 8 Bosw. (N. Y.) 345; and particularly Ricker v. Freeman, 50 N.H. 420.

For the purposes of this case, it stands admitted that the act of defendant was unlawful; and it would be difficult to conceive of a more direct consequence than the damage done to the plaintiff. The damage is not only direct, but it is also a certain pecuniary loss, thoroughly appreciable in dollars and cents, according to scientific life-tables, which have been frequently recognized by the courts as proper standards in estimating such damage. Field on Damages, sect. 632; Rowley v. London Railroad Co., 8 Law Rep. Ex. 221; David v. Southwestern Railroad Co., 41 Ga. 223; Donaldson v.Mississippi Railroad Co., 18 Iowa, 280; Blake v. Midland Company, 18 Q. B. 93.

Hubgh v. New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Co., 6 La. Ann. 495, and Hermann v. Carrollton Railroad Co., 11 id. 5, are confined to actions for damages by relations of the deceased, and neither by their terms nor reasons extend to this action.

The amendment to art. 2294, now 2314, of the Civil Code of Louisiana does not affect the case, because it only applies to the right of action of the injured party for the damage done to him, and provides that the right, in case of his death, shall survive in favor of certain relatives.

Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. New York & New Haven Railroad Co., 25 Conn. 265, relied upon by the other side, is entitled to no greater weight as authority than results from the mere force of its reasoning. The present case is

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governed by the law of Louisiana, which differs from the common law and from that of Connecticut.

A contract of life insurance is similar to a valued policy of fire or marine insurance. The insurer who has paid the loss has in either case the right to recover from the tortious destroyer of the thing insured.

Under the law of Louisiana, which does not differ from the French law in this particular, the right of action of the plaintiff results directly to him without the intervention of any doctrine of subrogation.

Arts. 2314, 2316, and 2324 of the Revised Civil Code of Louisiana fully sanction this action, unless excluded by some authoritative interpretation of them. There has been no such interpretation by the courts of Louisiana which applies either in terms or reasons to this case.

Mr. John H. Kennard, contra.

It is the general rule that a party is not liable...

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