Edwards v. United States

Decision Date07 February 1944
Docket NumberNo. 9584.,9584.
Citation140 F.2d 526
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

W. B. Hale, of Rogersville, Tenn., and F. H. Parvin, of Greeneville, Tenn., for appellants.

Keith L. Seegmiller, of Washington, D. C. (James B. Frazier, of Chattanooga, Tenn., Francis M. Shea, Lester P. Schoene, Wilbur C. Pickett, and Fendall Marbury, all of Washington, D. C., on the brief), for appellee.

Before SIMONS, HAMILTON, and MARTIN, Circuit Judges.

HAMILTON, Circuit Judge.

This is an action upon a government insurance policy in the principal amount of $10,000.00 upon the life of Charles P. Edwards, which matured by his death. Appellant, Charles P. Edwards, Jr., was named therein as sole beneficiary and if the policy was void he was entitled to recover premiums in the sum of $4,374.20 paid thereon.

April 23, 1937, the insured, a practicing physician of Asheville, North Carolina, signed applications on forms furnished by the Veterans' Bureau to reinstate yearly renewable term insurance policies on his life in the aggregate amount of $10,000.00 which had lapsed February 1, 1920, and which were issued to him by the Government during his military service in the first World War, and when reinstated to convert such insurance to a contract of United States Government life insurance, naming Charles P. Edwards, Jr., beneficiary. The application for reinstatement was accompanied by a medical examination report made by a physician who was dead at the time of the trial. The insured was recommended as an insurable risk under the statute and regulations covering government life insurance and the reinstatement of lapsed policies. The application, among others, contained three questions which it is claimed the applicant knowingly answered falsely. These questions and answers are as follows:

"7. Have you . . . contracted any dissease . . . since lapse of this insurance?


"10. Are you now in good health?


"11. Have you ever been treated for any disease of . . . heart, or blood vessels?

"No. Kidneys? No."

The questions were preceded on the application by the following statement:

"I do hereby certify that the answers to the following questions are true to the best of my knowledge and belief, and are made as of the day on which the application is submitted to the bureau or deposited in the United States mail."

The applications were mailed to the Regional Office of the Veterans' Bureau at Nashville, Tennessee, where they were received May 4, 1927, and forwarded by the Regional Office to the Central Office at Washington, D. C., where they were received May 6, 1927. The Veterans' Bureau notified the applicant by letter of June 2, 1927, that his applications had been approved and the converted policy applied for mailed and that it became effective as of May 1, 1927. On May 6, 1927, the insured went to Johns Hopkins Hospital for the purpose of a diagnostic examination and consulted Dr. Louis E. Hamman, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School and a visiting physician at the hospital, who was also engaged in private practice. In giving his case history, the insured stated that he had found albumin in his urine and that his blood pressure was elevated and that in 1924 he had a severe septic throat and albumin in his urine in large amounts. He said that at that time he had his tonsils removed and thereafter the albumin slowly disappeared and that his systolic blood pressure during that period varied from 140 to 150. He also stated that before he had his tonsils removed, he had frequently suffered from tonsillitis. He stated he had been subject to frequent headaches which had been more severe in the two months preceding the examination and that within the same period the albumin in his urine had increased and that he had had his teeth X-rayed finding six of them abscessed and that after they were removed the amount of albumin decreased, but that his blood pressure had been running a systolic of between 165 and 170.

Dr. Hamman, on his examination over a period of two days, found insured had systolic blood pressure of 178 and diastolic of 116. He also found a trace of albumin and a few hyaline casts in the urine but no serious disturbance of the function of the kidneys. The doctor diagnosed the insured's condition as "so-called essential hypertension" which is an idiomatic phrase describing high blood pressure for which no cause can be found.

In January 1933, the insured filed with the Veterans' Administration, a sworn application for compensation as a disabled veteran, claiming his disability had occurred while in the military service. As a basis for his claim he stated in his affidavit that he had a cardiorenal disability which began September 1918, and was the aftermath of a severe attack of influenza and tonsillitis. There was attached to insured's affidavit a letter of explanation in which he stated that following the attack of influenza and tonsillitis (for which he had treated himself) he suffered from dizziness, slight headaches and a heart irregularity, which disturbed his sleep. He stated that at that time he consulted the chief of the medical service at the hospital in France where the insured was stationed, who told him that if his condition did not improve a recommendation for discharge would be made and he was discharged in March 1919. The insured stated that he then returned to Kingsport, Tennessee, and resumed his medical practice specializing in surgery, but that his physical ailments continued and that he consulted Dr. E. W. Tipton of Kingsport, who, on examination, found insured's blood pressure was 160 systolic and 100 diastolic and he also found albumin in his urine. The insured stated that notwithstanding his physical disability, he continued his practice until November or December 1919, during which time he consulted Dr. P. E. Marsh also of Kingsport who found his blood pressure to be 170 over 100 and that insured concluded from Dr. Marsh's report that he had something seriously wrong physically and would have to engage in lighter work and for this purpose in January 1920, he gave up the practice of surgery, moved from Kingsport, Tennessee, to Asheville, North Carolina, where he practiced as an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist. He stated that after he had been in Asheville three or four years without any improvement in his physical condition, he consulted Dr. Louis E. Hamman, whose diagnosis we have heretofore outlined.

In support of insured's application for compensation, he filed a certificate of Dr. E. W. Tipton, reciting inter alia that he had advised insured in 1919 due to his physical condition not to return to surgery, but to do some special work, which would allow him regular hours for work and rest.

At the trial, Dr. Tipton repudiated the above statement and said that Dr. Edwards was his partner in the practice of medicine and that occasionally they and other doctors associated with them checked each other's physical condition and on one of these examinations, immediately after insured's return from the army, he did have accelerated blood pressure, but that it was temporary and returned to normal within a few days. He said his statement that insured was a chronic sufferer from arteriosclerosis was a clear error and that he was sorry it was in his statement and that he could give no reason for making it, except the friendship he had for insured.

Insured also filed a certificate from Dr. Hamman in which, among other things, it was stated that in May 1927, as a result of his physical examination of insured, he had advised him to reduce his professional activities; that his condition at that time, although not extreme, was chronic and progressive. In February 1933, and again in April 1937, insured stated to the examining physicians of the Veterans' Administration in connection with his claim for compensation that he had been suffering from high blood pressure and albumin in his urine while in the service and ever since.

The insured in 1936 or 1937 had a slight cerebral hemorrhage and died October 6, 1938, the immediate cause of death not shown in the record. Insured was examined by Dr. Arthur F. Reeves on November 21, 1921, for life insurance and in his report Dr. Reeves showed the insured's blood pressure to be normal, no albumin and no disease or ailment. On March 26, 1924, the insured was examined on another life insurance application by Dr. P. E. Marsh who reported at that time that the insured's blood pressure was normal, that he was free from albumin and had no disease. Marsh and Reeves were dead at the time of the trial.

Dr. J. G. Anderson, of Asheville, North Carolina, on April 23, 1927, examined insured and made a medical report on which the present policy was issued. In his report Dr. Anderson stated that insured was free from disease, with blood pressure systolic of 150 and diastolic of 85 and with no albumin in his urine. Dr. Anderson also was dead at the time of the trial.

Dr. T. B. Yancey examined the insured soon after his return from France and again in 1932 and testified that in the first examination he found a trace of albumin in the urine but that after three or four days he made another test and found the urine without any albumin and that he found his blood pressure normal on the first examination. He stated that when he examined the insured in 1932 he found his blood pressure normal for his age.

Drs. Tipton, Wilson and Yancey testified that in their opinion, assuming that the history given by the insured to Dr. Hamman was true and that Dr. Hamman's diagnosis was correct, these facts did not show that insured was suffering from any organic disease at that time. Each of these doctors testified that high blood pressure often is temporary and results from excitement or various conditions and that its permanency could not be determined from a single test which was all Dr. Hamman made. Dr. Wilson testified that...

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