New York Life Ins Co v. Viglas, No. 602

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCARDOZO
Citation56 S.Ct. 615,297 U.S. 672,80 L.Ed. 971
Docket NumberNo. 602
Decision Date30 March 1936
PartiesNEW YORK LIFE INS. CO. v. VIGLAS

297 U.S. 672
56 S.Ct. 615
80 L.Ed. 971
NEW YORK LIFE INS. CO.

v.

VIGLAS.

No. 602.
Argued March 6, 1936.
Decided March 30, 1936.

Page 673

Messrs. F. H. Nash, of Boston, Mass., and Louis H. Cooke, of New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Harris J. Booras, of Boston, Mass., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

The case, which is here upon demurrer to a declaration, depends for its solution upon the nature of the breach of contract imputed to the defendant, the petitioner in this court, and upon the measure of the damages recoverable therefor.

Page 674

From the declaration we learn the following: Respondent received from petitioner on February 7, 1927, a policy of insurance for $2,000 payable at his death. The consideration was a semiannual premium of $38 payable during his life, but for not more than twenty years. If, however, the insured became totally and permanently disabled before the age of sixty, the company, petitioner, was to pay him a monthly income at an agreed rate and was to waive the payment of any premium that would otherwise be due. Disability was to be considered total when the insured was so affected by bodily injury or disease as to be wholly prevented from performing any work, from following any occupation, or from engaging in any business for remuneration or profit. In particular, 'the total and irrecoverable loss of the sight of both eyes or of the use of both hands or of both feet or of one hand and one foot' was to constitute 'total disability for life.' Before making any income payment or waiving any premium, the company might demand due proof of the continuance of total disability, not oftener, however, than once a year after such disability had continued for two full years. Upon failure to furnish such proof, or if the insured performed any work, or followed any occupation, or engaged in any business for remuneration or profit, 'no further income payments' were to be made, 'nor premiums waived.' If, at the time of a default in the payment of a premium, the insured was disabled within the definition of the policy, the insurance was to be reinstated, provided, however, that within six months after the default proofs of such disability were received by the insurer. In any event, reinstatement would be permitted at any time within five years upon evidence of insurability satisfactory to the insurer and upon payment of overdue premiums with interest at 5 per cent. Finally, the insured, though in default, was to have the benefit of surrender values in the form either of cash or of tem-

Page 675

porary insurance or of participating paid-up insurance according to his choice.

On September 11, 1931, the insured, according to the declaration, lost 'the total and irrecoverable use' of one hand and one foot, and became totally and permanently disabled. Upon proof of his condition the company paid him the monthly benefits called for by the policy from October 11, 1931, to July 11, 1933, and during the same period waived the payment of semiannual premiums. It refused to make a monthly payment in August, 1933, and refused the same month to waive a semiannual premium, 'asserting to the plaintiff as its ground for such refusal that since it appeared to the defendant that for some time past the plaintiff had not been continuously totally disabled within the meaning of the disability benefit provision of the policy, the defendant would make no further monthly disability payments, and that the premiums due on and after August 7, 1933, would be payable in conformity with the terms of the contract.' Later, upon the expiration of a term of grace, 'the defendant, on or about September 19, 1933, declared the policy as lapsed upon its records.' Plaintiff has elected to treat the defendant's acts 'as a repudiation and denunciation of the entire contract,' relieving him on his part from any further obligation.

There are two counts to his declaration. In the first, after stating the foregoing facts, he claims the cash surrender value that the policy will have in February, 1969, if he lives until that time, the date being chosen with reference to his expectancy of life under the American Table of Mortality. This value, $1,408, is less than the amount necessary to give jurisdiction in accordance with the Judicial Code. Judicial Code, § 24, 28 U.S.C. § 41, 28 U.S.C.A. § 41. In the second count, after stating the same facts, he claims for damages the total benefits that will be payable to him during the same period of expectancy, if he

Page 676

lives that long and his disability continues. The damages so computed are $15,900. No deduction is made on account of future premiums, for by hypothesis the disability will continue during life. The defendant demurred to both counts, stating in the demurrer that the declaration sets forth a cause of action for the benefits and premiums accruing prior to the date of the writ, and for nothing in excess thereof. In that view the recovery will be only $98, which is less than the jurisdictional amount. The District Court sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment for the defendant. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed. 78 F.(2d) 829. A writ of certiorari issued to resolve a claim of conflict with a decision of this court. 296 U.S. 571, 56 S.Ct. 370, 80 L.Ed. 403.

Upon the showing made in the complaint there was neither a repudiation of the policy nor such a breach of its provisions as to make conditional and future benefits the measure of recovery.

Repudiation there was none as the term is known to the law. Petitioner did not disclaim the intention or the duty to shape its conduct in accordance with the provisions of the contract. Far from repudiating those provisions, it appealed to their authority and endeavored to apply them. If the insured was still disabled, monthly benefits were payable, and there should have been a waiver of the premium. If he had recovered the use of hand or foot and was not otherwise disabled, his right to benefits had ceased, and the payment of the premium was again a contractual condition. There is nothing to show that the insurer was not acting in good faith in giving notice of its contention that the disability was over. Mobley v. New York Life Insurance Co., 295 U.S. 632, 638, 55 S.Ct. 876, 79 L.Ed. 1621, 99 A.L.R. 1166. If it made a mistake, there was a breach of a provision of the policy with liability for any damages appropriate thereto. We do not pause at the moment to fix the proper measure. Enough in this connection that at

Page 677

that stage of the transaction there had been no renunciation or abandonment of the contract as a whole. Mobley v. New York Life Insurance Co., supra; Dingley v. Oler, 117 U.S. 490, 503, 6 S.Ct. 850, 29 L.Ed. 984; Roehm v. Horst, 178 U.S. 1, 14, 15, 20 S.Ct. 780, 44 L.Ed. 953; Pierce v. Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co., 173 U.S. 1, 3, 11, 19 S.Ct. 335, 43 L.Ed. 591.

Renunciation or abandonment, if not effected at that stage, became consummate in the plaintiff's view at the end of the period of grace when the company declared the policy 'lapsed upon its records.' Throughout the plaintiff's argument the...

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150 practice notes
  • Boillot v. Income Guar. Co., No. 19139.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • May 23, 1938
    ...does not have a right of action and cause of action except for installments as they fall due. New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas (U.S.), 80 L. Ed. 971; Mobley v. New York Life Ins. Co. (U.S.), 79 L. Ed. 1621. (c) An insurance company has the right to contest the disability claimed under an ac......
  • Snyder v. Harris Gas Service Company v. Coburn, Nos. 109
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 25, 1969
    ...in controversy only if the installments due at the time of suit exceed the jurisdictional amount. E.g., New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, 297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936). However, if, because of the structure of equitable remedies or the availability of a declaratory judgmen......
  • Leslie Blau Co. v. Alfieri
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • February 28, 1978
    ...the right of recovery is limited to the instalments due at the time of institution of suit. New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, supra (297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936)); Roehm v. Horst, 178 U.S. 1, 18, 20 S.Ct. 780, 44 L.Ed. 953; General American Tank Car Corp. v. Goree, 4 Cir.......
  • Combs v. International Ins. Co., No. 01-6493.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 6, 2004
    ...repudiation in insurance coverage disputes, and insurance policies are unilateral agreements. See, e.g., N.Y. Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, 297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936); Lovell v. St. Louis Mut. Life Ins. Co., 111 U.S. 264, 4 S.Ct. 390, 28 L.Ed. 423 (1884); Caminetti v. Manier......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
150 cases
  • Boillot v. Income Guar. Co., No. 19139.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • May 23, 1938
    ...does not have a right of action and cause of action except for installments as they fall due. New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas (U.S.), 80 L. Ed. 971; Mobley v. New York Life Ins. Co. (U.S.), 79 L. Ed. 1621. (c) An insurance company has the right to contest the disability claimed under an ac......
  • Snyder v. Harris Gas Service Company v. Coburn, Nos. 109
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 25, 1969
    ...in controversy only if the installments due at the time of suit exceed the jurisdictional amount. E.g., New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, 297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936). However, if, because of the structure of equitable remedies or the availability of a declaratory judgmen......
  • Leslie Blau Co. v. Alfieri
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • February 28, 1978
    ...the right of recovery is limited to the instalments due at the time of institution of suit. New York Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, supra (297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936)); Roehm v. Horst, 178 U.S. 1, 18, 20 S.Ct. 780, 44 L.Ed. 953; General American Tank Car Corp. v. Goree, 4 Cir.......
  • Combs v. International Ins. Co., No. 01-6493.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • January 6, 2004
    ...repudiation in insurance coverage disputes, and insurance policies are unilateral agreements. See, e.g., N.Y. Life Ins. Co. v. Viglas, 297 U.S. 672, 56 S.Ct. 615, 80 L.Ed. 971 (1936); Lovell v. St. Louis Mut. Life Ins. Co., 111 U.S. 264, 4 S.Ct. 390, 28 L.Ed. 423 (1884); Caminetti v. Manier......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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