G.M. Battery & Boat Co. v. L.K.N. Corp., 69427

Decision Date15 March 1988
Docket NumberNo. 69427,69427
CourtMissouri Supreme Court
PartiesG.M. BATTERY & BOAT COMPANY, Plaintiff-Amicus Curiae, v. L.K.N. CORPORATION, Defendant-Cross-Claimant/Respondent, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, Defendant-Cross- Defendant/Appellant.

Laura B. Allen, Edward S. Meyer, St. Louis, for defendant-cross-appellant.

Richard Bumb, Michael J. McAvoy, Fenton, for defendant-cross-respondent.

Bryan L. Hettenbach, St. Louis, for plaintiff-amicus curiae.


LKN Corporation (LKN) leased a commercial building from G.M. Battery and Boat Co. (GMB) for a term of two years commencing March 1, 1982 at a rental of $1,500 per month. The lease granted the lessee an option to purchase the property during the term for $145,000 with a credit on the purchase price of one-half of the rental paid during the second year. The lease also contained the following provision:

No. 11. Insurance. Tenant agrees to maintain at his expense throughout the term of this Lease an all hazard insurance policy in the amount of $75,000.00 payable to and acceptable to Landlord.

Tenant further agrees to deliver to the landlord a certificate of the insuring company certifying that such insurance is in full force and effect. (L.F. 195-196).

LKN did not obtain an insurance policy which complied with the requirements of the lease. It instead purchased a policy from St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., effective June 1, 1983, 1 covering the building on the leased premises for $125,000 and the contents for $70,000. GMB was not named as a loss payee under this policy, but Mark Twain State Bank, which had lent money secured by inventory, was so named.

On August 23, 1983, the building and contents were totally destroyed by fire. GMB collected $75,000 on a policy which it had obtained on the building from an insurer other than St. Paul. St. Paul denied liability for any part of the building loss, claiming that LKN had no insurable interest in the building. It admitted liability for the contents coverage, subject to determination of the proper claimant, and for business interruption, to the extent that loss could be proved. These latter coverages are not in issue in this phase of the litigation.

GMB filed suit against LKN, St. Paul, and others. It sought $75,000 in damages from LKN for breach of the lease contract in failing to procure insurance on the building. LKN cross-claimed against St. Paul for the entire proceeds of its policy. St. Paul paid the $70,000 contents coverage into court, seeking to interplead possible claimants, and filed an answer denying liability on the building coverage because of LKN's lack of insurable interest. Other claims in the somewhat complicated litigation are not material to this appeal and need not be discussed.

The trial court entered summary judgment for GMB against LKN for $75,000 for failure to provide insurance, and for LKN against St. Paul for $125,000, this being the entire building coverage under its policy. Both of these judgments were declared to be final and appealable as authorized by Rule 81.06. St. Paul appealed, but LKN did not. The court of appeals reversed, finding that LKN did not have an insurable interest in the building. We granted transfer to consider possible conflict with DeWitt v. American Family Insurance Co., 667 S.W.2d 700 (Mo. banc 1984). Taking the case as on initial appeal, we conclude that DeWitt indeed states the proper rule of decision and affirm the judgment of the circuit court. The case comes to the writer on recent reassignment.

St. Paul urges a single point for reversal, as follows:


The appellant cites several cases from other jurisdictions in support of its legal proposition. 2 Our examination of the cases persuades us that there is no general rule such as St. Paul advances. Substantial authority supports a contrary position. 3 A strong case is Crossman v. American Insurance Co., 164 N.W. 428 (Mich.1917), which states emphatically that there is no reason why an optionholder should not be deemed to have an insurable interest. But we see no reason to dwell upon the facts of the several cases from other jurisdictions. We conclude that the trial court's judgment is supported by the consistent holdings of the Missouri cases over many years.

The controlling rule, perhaps borrowed from elsewhere, but expounded in numerous Missouri cases, 4 is as follows:

In general, a person has an insurable interest in the subject matter insured where he has such a relation or concern in such subject matter that he will derive pecuniary benefit or advantage from its preservation, or will suffer pecuniary loss or damage from its destruction, termination, or injury by happening of the event insured against.

The substance of this rule, interestingly, is set out in Crossman v. American Insurance Co., supra, 164 N.W. at 429. It was emphatically applied in DeWitt, supra, which is the latest pronouncement of our Court on the subject of insurable interest in property. In DeWitt a husband and wife held real property which was awarded to the husband on dissolution of their marriage. The husband then died and his former wife took possession of the property, which she used to make a home for herself and a child of the marriage. She insured the property against fire in her own name. We held that, inasmuch as she was liable on the note secured by a deed of trust on the property, she had an insurable interest in spite of her lack of title, and that, when the property was totally destroyed, she was entitled to recover the entire face amount of the policy.

In Wrausmann v. Kansas City Fire and Marine Insurance Co., 477 S.W.2d 741 (Mo.App.1972), a person liable on a mortgage note, apparently as a "straw party," was held to have an insurable interest in property. A familiar quotation used by the court, reading as follows, is pertinent:

It is not necessary, to constitute an insurable interest, that the interest would be such that the event insured against would necessarily subject the insured to loss; it is sufficient that it might do so, and that pecuniary injury would be the natural consequence ... although a person has no title, legal or equitable, in the property, and neither possession nor a right to possession, yet he has an insurable interest therein if it is primarily charged in either law or equity with a debtor obligation for which he is secondarily liable.

Graves v. Stanton, 621 S.W.2d 524 (Mo.App.1981), involved an insurance policy taken out by the lessee of a trailer. The lessee had an option to purchase, with rental payments to be credited on the option price, and was required by the lease to maintain insurance on the trailer. The court found that the lessee had an insurable interest. St. Paul seeks to distinguish this case on the ground that the lessee had given notice of his intention to exercise the option before the trailer was destroyed. The attempted distinction is not total, for by established law an insurable interest must exist both when the insurance is written and at the time of the loss. 5 The case is inconsistent with the existence of any categorical rule in Missouri that the holder of an unexercised option does not have an insurable interest. The optionholder has an insurable interest if there is potential for loss in the destruction of the subject property.

Other Missouri cases are consistent with our conclusion. In Farmers Mutual Fire & Lightning Co. v. Crowley, 354 Mo. 649, 190 S.W.2d 250 (1945), the court held that a life tenant could insure property for its full value and could collect the entire proceeds to the exclusion of the remainderman if there is a total loss. A holding of the court of appeals that the insurance would redound to the benefit of the remainderman, 187 S.W.2d 346 (Mo.App.1945), was expressly rejected. In M.F.A. Mutual Insurance Co. v. Gulf Insurance Co., 445 S.W.2d 829 (Mo.1969), we held that a building contractor had an insurable interest in an uncompleted house which he was required by contract to complete. The material circumstance in determining insurable interest is not title, but possibility of loss. Our courts make every effort to find insurable interest, and to sustain coverage, when there is any substantial possibility that the insured will suffer loss from the destruction of the property. Other supporting cases are cited in DeWitt.

St. Paul cites Puritan Insurance Co. v. Yarber, 723 S.W.2d 98 (Mo.App.1987). This is the most recent of a line of court of appeals cases holding that nobody but the holder of a certificate of title (or, no doubt, a duly endorsed lienholder) has an insurable interest in a motor vehicle. 6 The result is deemed necessary by reason of § 301.210, RSMo 1986, which establishes a strong policy against informal transfers of title to motor vehicles and provides that any attempted transfer is void unless accompanied by delivery of a duly endorsed certificate of title. Policy reasons attend the titling of motor vehicles which are not present when the insurance covers real property.

Likewise distinguishable is Lumberman's Mutual Insurance Co. v. Edmister, 412 F.2d 351 (8th Cir.1969), applying Missouri law. There the owner of real property sold the property but maintained the existing insurance in force in his own name. He then sought to collect the proceeds when the property was destroyed by fire. The court found that he had misled the insurance company as to the state of his title. This finding is sufficient to support the denial of recovery.

Here it is patent that LKN could suffer loss if the...

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