Knowlton v. Equitable Acc. Ass'n

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtHOLMES, C.J.
Citation175 Mass. 196,55 N.E. 890
Decision Date04 January 1900

175 Mass. 196

55 N.E. 890

KNOWLTON, Atty. Gen.


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

January 4, 1900

COUNSEL [175 Mass. 197]

[55 N.E. 890] J. H. Appleton, for petitioner.

Hesseltine & Hesseltine, for defendant.



It may be assumed that the time when the bill was filed, viz. August 9, 1898, is the time at which the [175 Mass. 198] claims must have accrued, in order to come within St. 1890, c. 421, § 14. Attorney General v. Massachusetts Benefit Life Ass'n, 171 Mass. 193, 194, 50 N.E. 520.

1. At that time the accident had happened which resulted in the death of West, and it is contended that the claim had accrued, although the death did not occur until August 31st. It is argued that the insurance is 'against bodily injuries,' that the liability arose with the injury, and that all that happened afterwards was simply the inevitable process of mechanical cause and effect, as theoretically certain from the beginning as an eclipse,--conditions of an action perhaps, but not of liability. We are unable to agree to the argument. The contract is not a general undertaking to pay for bodily injuries, notwithstanding the introductory words. It is only an insurance against them 'in the manner following,' namely, an undertaking to pay so much for loss of time on certain conditions, so much for loss of a hand, so much for death, etc. The time or the hand must be lost, or the death must have happened, before the company's obligation to pay arises. That it is theoretically certain to happen is not enough, either by the words of the policy or the reason of the thing. If theoretic certainty were enough, the same reasoning might regard the claim as accrued from the making of the policy, or, if we reject free will, from the beginning of the world. The law does not trouble itself very much with such philosophic difficulties. The practical uncertainty [55 N.E. 891] arising from the ignorance of men is enough to be uncertainty in its eyes. A policy of insurance or a wager is good, so far as this objection goes, upon a future event depending upon purely mechanical sequences, or, for the matter of that, upon a fact in the past. Striking a mortal blow does not get its character at common law as murder or otherwise, until the death has happened within or beyond the year and day. 4 Bl. Comm. 197, 198. If the theoretic certainty of the event gave character to the act, the length of time before it...

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8 cases
  • Commissioner of Ins. v. Massachusetts Acc. Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 15, 1943
    ...suffered before that date. Obviously such claims were not "contingent." See Attorney General v. Equitable Accident Ins. Association, 175 Mass. 196 . We are here concerned with claims of policyholders who, because of the insolvency of the company, have lost the rights their policies would ha......
  • City of Bridgeport v. ÆTna Indem. Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 19, 1916
    ...that the city's claim should be disallowed as unaccrued at the time of the former's appointment. Attorney General v. Ins. Ass'n, 175 Mass. 196, 55 N. E. 890; Dean & Sons' Appeal, 98 Pa. 101; In re Equitable Reserve Fund Ass'n, 131 N. Y. 354, 30 N. E. 114; People v. Life Ins. Co., 154 N. Y. ......
  • People v. Metro. Sur. Co.
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • April 2, 1912 other states. Goding v. Roscenthal, 180 Mass. 43, 44, 61 N. E. 222;[205 N.Y. 145]Attorney General v. Equitable Accident Ins. Ass'n, 175 Mass. 196, 55 N. E. 890;Commonwealth v. Mass. Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 119 Mass. 45, 50;Fernald v. Johnson, 71 Me. 437;Boardman v. De Forest, 5 Conn. 1;Mayer......
  • Norton v. Inhabitants of Town of Brookline
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • May 21, 1902
    ...for a longer time. May v. City of Gloucester, 174 Mass. 583, 585, 55 N. E. 465. See Attorney General v. Equitable Accident Ins. Ass'n, 175 Mass. 196, 199, 55 N. E. 890. It is said that the fire commissioner had no authority to change the terms of the plaintiff's employment. Nothing appears ......
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