Hayes v. Home Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date08 March 1948
Docket NumberNo. 9585.,9585.
Citation83 US App. DC 110,168 F.2d 152
PartiesHAYES v. HOME LIFE INS. CO.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Mr. Arthur P. Drury, of Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. George E. Hamilton, Jr., of Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant. Mr. Robert Peter, of Rockville, Md., also entered an appearance for appellant.

Mr. Edgar J. Goodrich, of Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Lipman Redman, of Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellee.

Before GRONER, Chief Justice, and WILBUR K. MILLER and PRETTYMAN, Associate Justices.

PRETTYMAN, Associate Justice.

Appellant is the beneficiary named in certain policies of insurance issued by the appellee. The appellee having declined to pay the total face amount of the policies, appellant brought a civil action in the District Court to recover that amount. That court granted the company's motion for summary judgment.

The controversy concerns the following provisions of the policies:

"War, Aviation and Travel Provisions. Anything herein to the contrary notwithstanding, this policy is issued subject to the condition that the amount of insurance hereunder shall be limited to the sum of the premiums paid hereon, or the reserve for the face amount of this policy, whichever is greater, increased by the reserve on any outstanding paid-up additions and less any indebtedness, but in no event shall the amount payable under this policy be more than if this endorsement had not been made hereon, if

"(a) The death of the insured results, directly or indirectly, from military or naval service outside the geographical boundaries of the Continental United States of America in time of war, whether declared or undeclared;

* * * * * *

"(c) The death of the insured results within two years from the date of issue of this policy, directly or indirectly, from war, whether declared or undeclared, while the insured is outside the geographical boundaries of the Continental United States of America."

The policies were issued on June 1, 1942. The record does not show whether at that time the insured was or was not in the military service. In any event, in July, 1945, he was an officer in the United States Navy on duty on the cruiser Indianapolis in the Pacific Ocean and met his death when that ship was sunk as a result of enemy action.

It is agreed that the death of the insured occurred outside the geographical boundaries of the United States in time of war and more than two years after the date of the policies. It is also clear that his death resulted from naval service and also resulted from war. The literal terms of both clause (a) and clause (c) apply. But if (a) alone be applied, the company is not liable for the face amount of the policies, whereas if (c) alone be applied, the company is so liable. Thus, the problem is: Where both of two clauses, one of liability and one of non-liability, apply, which should be given effect? It seems to us that this is the sort of problem to which the rule as to ambiguity must apply. There is no ambiguity in the language of either clause; both apply. But since the clauses are conflicting, an ambiguity in the contract is created.

Appellee avoids the conclusion just indicated by contending that the clauses are in the alternative and that if either one applies, liability is defeated; liability need be defeated only once. The difficulty with the argument is that the clauses are not alternative negations of liability. While the expression of clause (c) is that liability is limited if death results within two years from war, it clearly also means that if death results from war after two years from the date of the policy, the company will pay the full face amount. The clause is not only a bar for two years, but in common, plain and natural understanding it is an affirmation of full liability after two years, so far as war might be the cause of death. The two-year provision in clause (c) makes the two clauses opposites in result after the two years have expired, and not alternative bars to liability. If clause (a) had referred to death resulting from naval service and clause (c) had referred simply to death resulting from war, without the two-year limitation, there would have been two separate bars to liability and the existence of either cause would have been sufficient to defeat liability. But in the case at bar, where the two years had expired, the two clauses were in direct conflict, one denying and the other asserting liability.

Appellee buttresses the foregoing argument by reference to clause (b) of the endorsement, which limits liability if death results from travel or flight in any species of aircraft, except as a fare-paying passenger. It treats that clause as a direct limitation upon liability, with no affirmative implications of liability. But the clause does have such an implication in respect to fare-paying passengers. To get an analogy from clause (b) to the present case, we would have to imagine a person in the naval service and on a naval mission but for some reason a fare-paying passenger in an aircraft. If death resulted, there would be a conflict between clause (a) and clause (b) as to liability, although that conflict might not be as striking as that between clauses (a) and (c) in the case at bar.

Appellee relies upon a line of cases, of which it cites Caruso v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.1 as "on all fours" with the present case, and Jorgenson v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.,2 decided by the same court to the same effect. But those cases dealt with so-called "status" clauses, and the courts held that a "status" clause governs over a "result" clause. Thus, in the Caruso case 25 N.J.Misc. 318, 53 A.2d 223, one clause limited liability on account of "Death while the Insured is serving * * * in the military or naval or air forces", while the other limited liability on account of "Death within two years from the date of the Policy, as a result of war * * *." The court said, "Clause (a) is a `military status clause', as distinguished from a `cause of death clause' and in such cases the status of the insured and not the cause of death is the ground upon which the exoneration of the insurer from liability stands." The court cited Coit v. Jefferson Standard Life Ins. Co.,3 which in turn referred to a large number of cases which arose after World War I and which involved so-called "status" clauses where the death occurred as the result of influenza, which was common alike to civilians and military personnel, and from accidents not in the course of military duty. We need not analyze or discuss at length these authorities. They are collected and amply considered in the Coit case, supra, and in Boatwright v. American Life Ins. Co.,4 Gorder v. Lincoln Nat. Life Ins. Co.,5 Life & Casualty Ins. Co. v. McLeod,6 and Bending...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Richardson v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 01-SP-1451.
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • June 12, 2003
    ...plain language." Cameron v. USAA Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 733 A.2d 965, 968 (D.C.1999) (quoting Hayes v. Home Life Ins. Co., 83 U.S.App. D.C. 110, 112, 168 F.2d 152, 154 (1948) (Prettyman, J.)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Chase v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 780 A.2d 1123, 11......
  • Richardson v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • June 12, 2003
    ...plain language." Cameron v. USAA Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 733 A.2d 965, 968 (D.C. 1999) (quoting Hayes v. Home Life Ins. Co., 83 U.S. App. D.C. 110, 112, 168 F.2d 152, 154 (1948) (Prettyman, J.)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Chase v. State Farm Ins. Co., 780 A.2d 1123, 1127 (D......
  • Raley v. Life and Casualty Insurance Co. of Tenn.
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • October 6, 1955
    ...insurance company which prepared the policy. That rule has recently been extended and strengthened. — In Hayes v. Home Life Ins. Co., 1948, 83 U.S.App.D.C. 110, 112, 168 F.2d 152, 154, it was said that customers of insurance companies: "* * * are, in vast majority, not informed in the obscu......
  • Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Richardson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • November 2, 2001
    ...omitted). This is because insurers draft the contracts, with the help of experts and lawyers. Id. (citing Hayes v. Home Life Ins. Co., 168 F.2d 152, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1948)). The doctrine of contra preferentum, however, does not permit "forced constructions" or otherwise strained readings in o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT