Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., No. 79-1505

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore GEE, HENDERSON and HATCHETT; HATCHETT
Citation607 F.2d 665
Docket NumberNo. 79-1505
Decision Date27 November 1979
PartiesMrs. Anita Doyle GOODMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. HIGHLANDS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant. Summary Calendar. *

Page 665

607 F.2d 665
Mrs. Anita Doyle GOODMAN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
HIGHLANDS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 79-1505
Summary Calendar. *
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Nov. 27, 1979.

Page 666

Charles G. Copeland, George F. Woodliff, Jackson, Miss., for plaintiff-appellee.

Waller & Waller, William L. Waller, Jackson, Miss., for defendant-appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before GEE, HENDERSON and HATCHETT, Circuit Judges.

HATCHETT, Circuit Judge:

This is a diversity action arising out of a suit on an accidental death insurance policy. The primary issue is whether the insured died as a result of an accident or suicide. The district court, after a bench trial, found that the insured's death was accidental. We affirm.

Mr. Goodman, the insured, was employed by U. S. Gypsum Company which maintained a group accident policy through the appellant, Highlands Insurance Company, insuring certain of its employees against accidental death. On October 6, 1976, while on business for U. S. Gypsum Company, Mr. Goodman was involved in a head-on collision with a transport trailer-truck. As a result of this collision, Mr. Goodman was transported by ambulance to Rush Foundation Hospital, where he was diagnosed to have multiple contusions, bruises, and a fractured left hip. While confined to the hospital, Mr. Goodman received an operation where a pin was inserted to connect the broken bones caused by the fractures. A second operation was performed on October 14, 1976, where two more pins were placed in Mr. Goodman's left hip. As his treatment progressed, he developed phlebitis in his left leg for which he was receiving treatment. On October 29, 1976, Mr. Goodman was discovered dead in the bathroom of his hospital room, hanging by the cord at the neck of his hospital gown. The gown was looped over the handle of a bed pan washing mechanism which was affixed to the bathroom wall and which formed a hook. Mr. Goodman's head was forward, and the upper part of his body was elevated off the floor. His legs were stretched out in front of him and on the floor, but his buttocks were raised above the floor.

The district court stated: "It is the opinion of this court from the facts on this very close case that it cannot be said with any degree of certainty just exactly how Goodman met his death under these strange circumstances, but he did not die as a suicide. There is a rebuttable presumption against suicide in Mississippi."

The appellant, Highlands Insurance Company, advances several points on appeal. First, they contend that the overwhelming evidence precludes a finding of accidental death by the district court. Secondly, they argue that the appellees, Goodman's survivors,

Page 667

are bound under Mississippi law by statements contained in the proof of loss form submitted to the insurance company under the policy. Thirdly, they argue that the trial court committed error in admitting certain medical expert opinion testimony based on possibilities. Lastly, appellant contends that certain findings of fact are contrary to the undisputed evidence.

The appellant maintains that the finding that Goodman did not die as a result of suicide is contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The appellant mainly relies on the evidence which showed that prior to his death, Mr. Goodman was notably depressed. Goodman's wife testified that he constantly discussed visions of the accident and was given to fits of crying during his hospital stay. The hospital records also reflected Goodman's depression.

On appeal of a case tried without a jury, "(f)indings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous . . . ." Rule 52(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. The findings of a district court are not lightly to be set aside, for the court of appeals is not a trier of facts, and should not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. Baggett v. Richardson, 473 F.2d 863 (5th Cir. 1973). The burden of showing that the district court's findings are clearly erroneous rests squarely upon the appellant. Chaney v. City of Galveston,368 F.2d 774 (5th Cir. 1966). Appellant has failed to carry this admittedly heavy burden.

Under Mississippi law, there is a rebuttable presumption against suicide. Jefferson Standard Life Ins. Co. v. Jefcoats, 164 Miss. 659, 143 So. 842 (1932). Where death is caused by external and violent means, as in this case, a presumption arises that death ensued by accidental means. Britt v. All American Assurance Co. of Louisiana, 333 So.2d 629 (Miss.1976). Appellant...

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14 practice notes
  • LaFleur v. Wallace State Community College, Civil Action No. 94-D-747-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 18 Junio 1996
    ...without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence." Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (citing Wright v. Southwest Bank, 554 F.2d 661 (5th Cir. 1977)). See also Lee v. Russell County Bd. of Educ., 684 F.2d 769,......
  • Sandoval v. Hagan, No. Civ.A. 96-D-1875-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 1 Enero 1999
    ...without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence." Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (citing Wright v. Southwest Bank, 554 F.2d 661 (5th Cir. 1977));6 see also Lee v. Russell County Bd. of Educ., 684 F.2d 769......
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Andrx Pharmaceuticals, No. 03-60703-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 4 Junio 2004
    ...and give it the (slight) weight to which it is entitled"), aff'd, 365 F.3d 1306 (7th Cir.2004); see also Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Page 1132 (after noting that an evidentiary ruling should not be disturbed on appeal absent a showing of manifest error, holding tha......
  • Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Dolgencorp, LLC, Nos. 12–14527
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • 5 Marzo 2014
    ...her analysis did not assist the trier of fact (here, the district court) with any issue in the case. See Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (“[A] trial judge sitting without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of [74......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • LaFleur v. Wallace State Community College, Civil Action No. 94-D-747-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 18 Junio 1996
    ...without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence." Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (citing Wright v. Southwest Bank, 554 F.2d 661 (5th Cir. 1977)). See also Lee v. Russell County Bd. of Educ., 684 F.2d 769,......
  • Sandoval v. Hagan, No. Civ.A. 96-D-1875-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 1 Enero 1999
    ...without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence." Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (citing Wright v. Southwest Bank, 554 F.2d 661 (5th Cir. 1977));6 see also Lee v. Russell County Bd. of Educ., 684 F.2d 769......
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Andrx Pharmaceuticals, No. 03-60703-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 4 Junio 2004
    ...and give it the (slight) weight to which it is entitled"), aff'd, 365 F.3d 1306 (7th Cir.2004); see also Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Page 1132 (after noting that an evidentiary ruling should not be disturbed on appeal absent a showing of manifest error, holding tha......
  • Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Dolgencorp, LLC, Nos. 12–14527
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • 5 Marzo 2014
    ...her analysis did not assist the trier of fact (here, the district court) with any issue in the case. See Goodman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 607 F.2d 665, 668 (5th Cir.1979) (“[A] trial judge sitting without a jury is entitled to even greater latitude concerning the admission or exclusion of [74......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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