Jackson v. Loyal Additional Ben. Ass'n

Citation205 S.W. 318
Decision Date06 August 1918
CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee

Suit by Pearl Jackson against the Loyal Additional Benefit Association. From a decree in favor of the defendant, the complainant appeals. Reversed, and decree entered in favor of the complainant.

Stokes & Stokes, of Nashville, for appellant. Aust & McGugin, of Nashville, for appellee.


This is a suit upon a benefit certificate, issued by the defendant association. From a decree in favor of the defendant, the complainant has appealed.

MacDonald Jackson, the husband of the complainant, joined the association and took out a benefit certificate for $2,000, payable to his wife, dated August 29, 1896. He paid his dues until his death, April 9, 1916, and was a member in good standing at that time. He died by his own hand, and the association resists payment of the certificate by reason of Jackson's suicide.

At the time the certificate was issued, there was no provision in the by-laws or constitution of the association with reference to suicide, nor did the certificate, or any other part of the contract, contain any such provision.

The main question submitted is whether a nominated beneficiary of a life insurance policy or certificate in a benefit society, containing no provision as to the effect of suicide, may recover when the assured, being of sound mind, takes his own life.

Several courts of the highest repute have held that there can be no recovery under such circumstances. Ritter v. Mutual L. Ins. Co. 169 U. S. 139, 18 Sup. Ct. 300, 42 L. Ed. 693; Davis v. Supreme Council Royal Arcanum, 195 Mass. 402, 81 N. E. 294, 10 L. R. A. (N. S.) 722, 11 Ann. Cas. 777; Shipman v. Protected Home Circle, 174 N. Y. 398, 67 N. E. 83, 63 L. R. A. 347; Security Life Ins. Co. v. Dillard, 117 Va. 401, 84 S. E. 656, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 1187.

In our opinion, however, the weight of the authority is to the contrary. Grand Legion v. Beatty, 224 Ill. 346, 79 N. E. 565, 8 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1124, 8 Ann. Cas. 160; Campbell v. Supreme Conclave, 66 N. J. Law, 274, 49 Atl. 550, 54 L. R. A. 576; Patterson v. Natural Premium Mut. L. Ins. Co., 100 Wis. 118, 75 N. W. 980, 42 L. R. A. 253, 69 Am. St. Rep 899; Seiler v. Economic L. Ass'n, 105 Iowa, 87, 74 N. W. 941, 43 L. R. A. 537; Parker v. Des Moines Life Ass'n, 108 Iowa, 117, 78 N. W. 826; Mills v. Rebstock, 29 Minn., 380, 13 N. W. 162; Kerr v. Minn. Mutual Ben. Ass'n, 39 Minn. 174, 39 N. W. 312, 12 Am. St. Rep. 631; Robson v. United Order of Foresters, 93 Minn. 24, 100 N. W. 381; Lange v. Royal Highlanders, 75 Neb. 188, 106 N. W. 224, 110 N. W. 1110, 10 L. R. A. (N. S.) 666, 121 Am. St. Rep. 786; Supreme Conclave v. Miles, 92 Md. 613, 48 Atl. 845, 84 Am. St. Rep. 528.

Other cases are contained in notes 84 Am. St. Rep. 541, 8 Ann. Cas. 162, 8 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1125. All the annotators agree that the weight of authority is as above stated.

The cases affirming liability do not cover instances where the insurance was procured with the intention of committing suicide. It is recognized that such conduct would be a fraud on the insurer, and defeat the policy. We have no such case before us. This certificate was carried 20 years.

The reasons given by the courts denying recovery under the circumstances here presented are that there is an implied agreement against self-destruction by the insured in every insurance contract, and that a recovery under such circumstances would be a fraud on the insurer; that public policy forbids the enforcement of a contract matured by suicide; and, further, that neither the insured nor his estate, nor beneficiary, should profit by his wrong. See note 8 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1125.

The idea that suicide is excluded from a contract of insurance by implication rests on the supposition that the rates of insurance are based on the theory that the insured will not take his own life. This is assumed in Ritter v. Mutual Life Ins. Co., supra, and other cases following that authority.

This assumption, however, is erroneous, as is noted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in Campbell v. Supreme Conclave, supra, and by the Supreme Court of Nebraska in Lange v. Royal Highlanders, supra.

As a matter of fact, the mortality tables, upon which all insurance rates are computed, take into account deaths from every cause; deaths by suicide included. It therefore cannot be said that such a death is impliedly excluded from these contracts, when the consideration thereof rests on such a basis.

It follows, then, if the contract includes death by suicide, and premiums are calculated upon such a contingency, the insured perpetrates no fraud upon the insurer by taking his own life, unless indeed the contract was entered into with that intention.

Moreover, it is against the policy of this state to permit implications in insurance contracts. So far as life insurance proper is concerned, it is expressly provided by chapter 441 of the Acts of 1907, that the entire contract of insurance shall be contained in the policy. Not even written documents, such as applications, or medical examinations, can be looked to and taken as part of the contract, although referred to in the policy, unless physically embraced therein. Arnold v. Insurance Co., 131 Tenn. 720, 177 S. W. 78, L. R. A. 1915E, 363.

As to fraternal benefit insurance, chapter 44 of the Acts of 1913 regulates that subject in great detail, and in section 8 of said act it is provided that the certificate issued by such societies, together with the articles of association or incorporation, the constitution, laws, applications, and medical examination "shall constitute the agreement between the society and the member."

So our statutes at present leave no room for any implied obligations or exceptions in insurance policies or benefit certificates.

It has not been considered against public policy in Tennessee to permit a recovery on a contract of insurance where the insured came to his death by his own hand.

In Supreme Lodge, Knights of Pythias, v. La Malta, 95 Tenn. 157, 31 S. W. 493, 30 L. R. A. 838, the member suicided. Recovery on the certificate was sought to be defeated by an anti-suicide by-law interposed as a defense. This court found that the by-law was illegally passed, and void, and decreed a recovery.

In Silliman v. Insurance Co., 131 Tenn. 314

174 S. W. 1131, L. R. A. 1915F, 707, recovery was likewise decreed on a policy in a...

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