Ieppert v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date13 June 1961
Docket NumberNo. 30795,30795
Citation347 S.W.2d 436
PartiesAnne E. IEPPERT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. JOHN HANCOCK MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a Corporation, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Raymond J. Lahey and Harold J. Cuddy, St. Louis, for appellant.

Kenneth Treasdale, Bruce E. Woodruff, Armstrong, Teasdale, Roos, Kramer & Vaughan, St. Louis, for respondent.

ANDERSON, Presiding Judge.

This is an action brought by Anne E. Ieppert to recover accidental death benefits under two policies of life insurance issued by defendant to plaintiff's deceased husband, John F. Ieppert. Plaintiff was the named beneficiary in each policy. After the issues were made up and depositions taken and filed in the cause defendant moved for a Summary Judgment. The court sustained said motion and from the judgment for defendant plaintiff has appealed.

There are two policies involved. The face amount of Policy No. M3823160 is $1,500, and the face amount of Policy No. M1818709 is for $1,000. The natural death benefit in each policy has been paid. Each policy contained a provision for the payment, subject to certain exceptions, of a sum equal to the face amount thereof, upon proof showing that the death of the insured was caused directly, independently and exclusively of all other causes, by a bodily injury sustained solely by external, violent and accidental means. The only exception, which is material in this case, provides:

'The company shall not be liable for the payment of the Additional Benefit as provided herein * * * (3) if such death results, directly or indirectly, or wholly or partially, (i) from any bodily or mental disease or infirmity, * * * or (iii) from suicide, while sane, * * *.'

The insured was found dead at his home on January 1, 1959. His body was hanging by an electric wire which was around his neck and attached to a transom between the kitchen and the bedroom. There was a chair against the wall about six feet from him. There were no eye witnesses to the event

In plaintiff's petition it was alleged that the death of the insured was the result of bodily injury sustained through external, violent and accidental means, to-wit, accidental strangulation. It was then alleged that if the death of the insured was the result of any action of his own, then said act was the result of an irrational and irresistible impulse, hence unintentional, and accidental. In an amended answer, defendant pleaded the exception heretofore mentioned, then averred that the death of the insured resulted from the commission of suicide while sane and, as an alternative defense, that the death of John F. Ieppert resulted from mental disease or infirmity, and, therefore, under the terms of the policies no additional benefit for death by accidental means was due or payable to plaintiff.

In defendant's motion for Summary Judgment it was alleged, 'that the pleadings, depositions and admissions on file with the Court show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'

Plaintiff filed her reply to defendant's motion for Summary Judgment asserting the motion should be denied on the grounds, (1) that there existed genuine issues of fact, (2) that the depositions on file show that the death of the insured was a violent one, and thus a prima facie case of accidental death was made under Missouri law, (3) that the depositions on file raised issues of fact that could only be determined by a jury, and (4) that suicide as a result of an irresistible and irrational impulse is held to be an accident in Missouri.

The court's order and judgment was as follows:

'Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment having been argued and submitted to the Court upon briefs, affidavits and depositions, and the court now being sufficiently advised doth find that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law for the reason that the insured met his death indirectly or in part from mental diseases or infirmities which according to the terms of the policy was an excluded risk.

'Wherefore, the Court both order that summary judgment be entered in favor of the defendant and against the plaintiff, and that plaintiff's petition be dismissed with prejudice at plaintiff's cost.'

Among the depositions on file in the case and considered by the court is one given by plaintiff, Anne E. Ieppert. She testified that in 1953 insured tried to take his own life by taking poison. At that time he was not living with plaintiff, but resided at his father's house. On that occasion plaintiff called the police because insured was running around the yard barefooted and without a shirt and was violent. The police came and took him to the City Hospital. After that episode insured moved back with plaintiff. Plaintiff thought that his wildness, at that time, was due to his drinking, but as the years went by she changed her mind about it. According to her testimony insured was a heavy drinker. She stated that he would be good for 'just so long' and then would get on a drunk and there wasn't anything one could do with him. He would drink until he 'got it out of his system.' He was violent and imagined things. In 1953, when he attempted suicide, she thought he was sane. She further testified that she heard from insured's sister that insured had taken muriatic acid in 1939 because a girl he was going with turned him down. In July 1953, he took red squill, a rat poison. Insured was in an accident about 2 or 3 years before his death, and sustained a back injury and 'nerve stuff', which hospitalized him for several weeks, after which he was home for about 3 months. After the accident he drank more and did 'wild crazy things.' Plaintiff testified, 'You couldn't talk to him. * * * There was no reasoning.' Plaintiff testified, in 1957 or 1958, when she remonstrated with him about his drinking he loaded his gun and said 'he would give me the same chance as he gave the rabbits--run.' Plaintiff ran into the yard, and insured shot at her.

Plaintiff further testified that when insured was in the City Hospital for taking poison he was so violent he had to be chained. In 1957 he signed himself into Malcolm Bliss Hospital, and was there about a week. Plaintiff did not know why he was there, but thought it was on account of one of his drinking sprees. She went to the hospital to visit him, but he would not see her. After he came home she asked him why he went to Malcolm Bliss and he replied that he did not want to come home 'because he'd hurt one of us and he didn't want to hurt one of us.' She stated, 'I asked them at the hospital if he was drunk, and they said no, it was a nerve condition that he was up there for. And I insisted, too, he might have been drunk but they claim he wasn't. * * * the lady at the desk told me, it was for nerves.'

Plaintiff further testified that insured was violent toward her many times; that he would have moody spells; that he chased her with a butcher knife four or fie times; that sometimes he would cut bottons off her clothes, sometimes tear her clothes and sometimes throw them into the stove. She stated that, except for the time during which insured was at the Malcolm Bliss Hospital, he was never under the care of a psychiatrist, although she often suggested such treatment because he did such 'crazy things.' She thought he was mentally ill for a long time because of his actions.

Appellant testified she discovered her husband's body after his death. The house was all straightened up and his clothes washed. Plaintiff had moved from their home three days prior to insured's death, because she felt he was running around with another woman. She took up a separate residence on 12th Street. After she left, insured got in touch with her about some property rights. She next saw him on New Year's eve when he knocked on her door and said, 'Here's the money I got left. * * * Don't come down home, because it won't be a pleasant sight.' Plaintiff said she became excited and went to where he lived, arriving there about a quarter to eight and saw a noose hanging in the door. She tore down the noose and threw it in a yard down the street. She went there later with her daughter and her daughter's friend and waited until he same home, and when he arrived he told her to get out, that she could not stop him from killing himself. At the time he had a wild bleary look. He turned out the light and started to cry, and said, 'When I started to cry I could kill you.' He then left. Plaintiff waited forty-five minutes for him to return, and when he did not return concluded he was getting drunk for New Years. She said she thought he was trying to ruin her New Year's, so she went back home. She did not think he would 'do it, because he never liked anything tight around his neck * * * if he would have shot himself or took poison, but not that. That is the last way I throught he'd go.'

Plaintiff gave the following testimony.

'Q. Based on these facts that you have observed then, is it your opinion that his death was caused by his mental condition? A. Must have been.

'Q. Will you answer that yes or no? A. Yes.

'Q. It is your opinion that his death was caused by his mental condition? A. Yes.

'Q. In your opinion, how long had this mental condition existed previous to this time? A. I guess for years. * * * I guess all the time he took poison, * * * I used to put it to the fact that he didn't have much schooling and didn't know how to live better and didn't have much of a home, but after we were married and things did get better, there just wasn't any reason for stuff he did. * * *

'Q. You don't think he * * * took his life because he was intoxicated? A. I don't know. Taken from the reports of the police and all of that, I don't think the man wanted to do...

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