Fid. & Cas. Co. of New York v. Weise

Decision Date13 October 1899
Citation182 Ill. 496,55 N.E. 540
CourtIllinois Supreme Court


Appeal from appellate court, First district.

Action by Minnie E. Weise against the Fidelity & Casualty Company of New York. From a judgment for plaintiff, affirmed by the appellate court (80 Ill. App. 499), defendant appeals. Reversed.

John A. Post and O. W. Dynes, for appellant.

Harbert, Curran & Harbert and David J. Wile, for appellee.


The circuit court of Cook county awarded appellee judgment against the appellant company as beneficiary under an accident policy insuring her husband, Simon Weise, against injury or death by accidental means. This is an appeal from the judgment of the appellate court affirming that of the circuit court.

The policy insured said Simon Weise, husband of the appellee, for her benefit, in case of his death, ‘against bodily injuries sustained through external, violent, and accidental means,’ and contained also the following condition: ‘In case of injuries, fatal or otherwise, wantonly inflicted upon himself by the assured, or inflicted upon himself or received by him while insane, the measure of this company's liability shall be a sum equal to the premium paid ($37.50), the same being agreed upon as in full liquidation of all claims under this policy.’ The declaration, as amended, in terms alleged the said Simon Weise ‘suffered bodily injuries sustained through external, violent, and accidental means, from which his death resulted.’ The general issue and several special pleas were filed to the original declaration. The substance of one of the special pleas was that the deceased wantonly took his own life, and of another that he committed suicide while insane, and both invoked the stipulation of the policy that only premiums paid should be recovered.

It appeared said Simon Weise resided in Chicago, near the shore of Lake Michigan; that he left his home before breakfast, on the morning of the 5th day of July, 1893; that his dead body was found about 10 or 11 o'clock in the forenoon of the same day, face downward, in the waters of the lake, which stood to the depth of about four feet between the breakwater and the shore line, near the foot of Fortieth street, in Chicago; that a bullet wound was found in the forehead, the ball having pierced the skull and penetrated the brain; that there was neither mark of burning of the skin nor stain of powder mark on his person, and no weapon was found near the water or on the shore; that his coat and hat had been removed, and were found on the stones of which the breakwater was in part composed, the coat having been laid down on the stones, and the hat placed on the coat; that there were no marks of violence on the body other than the bullet wound, and no indications that a struggle had taken place; that the place where the body and the coat and hat were found was remote from any regular thoroughfare;that the deceased had failed in business, and his affairs were placed in the hands of an assignee, less than two months before his death. There was evidence tending to show he was despondent, had acted ‘queerly,’ and was impressed with the delusion he was being persecuted by his assignee. He was under medical treatment, and had, the night before his death, taken a nerve sedative to give him rest, he being unable to go to sleep naturally; and the verdict of the coroner's jury was that he committed suicide while temporarily insane.

The court instructed the jury that the claim the assured committed suicide was an affirmative defense; that the law cast upon the appellant company the burden of proving it, and that it ‘must prove’ it by ‘evidence, facts, and circumstances' outweighing the evidence of plaintiff (appellee) upon the point. In this we think the court erred. It was essential to the right of appellee to recover that it should appear, by the preponderance of the evidence, that the assured came to his death through external, violent, and accidental means. Self-destruction is not classed as an accident, except it appears that the suicide was unconscious of the act or of the physical effect thereof, or was driven to the commission of the deed...

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