Romain v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co.

Decision Date07 December 1934
Docket NumberNo. 29932.,No. 29933.,29932.,29933.
Citation193 Minn. 1,258 N.W. 289
PartiesROMAIN v. TWIN CITY FIRE INS. CO. et al.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Appeal from District Court, Stearns County; Anton Thompson, Judge.

Action by E. A. Romain against the Twin City Fire Insurance Company and others. From a denial of motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial, defendants appeal.

Affirmed.

Fowler, Carlson, Furber & Johnson and Ralph H. Comaford, all of Minneapolis, for appellants.

Donohue, Quigley & Donohue, of St. Cloud, for respondent.

DEVANEY, Chief Justice.

Action on three fire insurance policies to recover the amount claimed to be due thereunder. Plaintiff, E. A. Romain, owned an icehouse at Big Lake, Minn. October 30, 1932, the building was totally destroyed by fire. Defendant Twin City Fire Insurance Company had covered the risk by a $1,000 policy. Defendant Hartford Fire Insurance Company had covered the risk by two policies, one for $500, the other for $1,000. These policies were standard "valued policies" and showed a stated insurable value of $12,000. At the time of the fire there was a total insurance on the building of $10,000.

Prior to the issuance of these policies, the partnership of Romain & Lagergren had owned the icehouse here involved. As owners they had entered into a contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company of Minneapolis, whereby they had agreed to sell no ice in the counties of Hennepin, Ramsey, or Washington in the state of Minnesota. They had further agreed that the icehouse would be wrecked, demolished, and destroyed prior to any sale by them of the land on which the icehouse was located, and in any event within 10 years. The contract was executed April 30, 1930. Romain & Lagergren subsequently sold the property to Ice Service Company, Inc. Ice Service Company, Inc., agreed to carry out the contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company and bought the property subject thereto. The Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company consented to this sale. After this sale the policies here sued upon were issued to the Ice Service Company, Inc. The Ice Service Company, Inc., did not disclose at any time to the insurance companies the existence of the contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company. While the property was owned by the Ice Service Company, Inc., plaintiff leased it from them. October 8, 1932, shortly before the fire, plaintiff purchased the property from Ice Service Company, Inc., for $1,000. He also agreed to assume and pay the last one-half of the 1931 taxes. The three policies of insurance were thereupon assigned to plaintiff. The two defendant insurance companies consented to these assignments. At the time of obtaining the consent of the two companies, plaintiff did not disclose that this contract existed with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company.

Defendant insurance companies contend that the existence of this contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company was a moral hazard which should have been disclosed to them at the time the policies were issued and at the time that the companies consented to an assignment of the policies to plaintiff; that, since such was not disclosed, the policies were avoided, and hence that there is now no liability thereunder. Defendants also contend that the policies were avoided because, contrary to provisions therein, the icehouse was permitted to become vacant and was vacant at the time the fire occurred. Except as to the issue of vacancy, the case was submitted to a jury who found for plaintiff. From a denial of their blended motions for judgment notwithstanding or for a new trial, defendants appeal.

Three questions are presented: (1) Did the failure to disclose to the insurance companies the existence of the contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company avoid the policies?

(2) Did the court err in refusing to submit to the jury the issue of whether the property was vacant at the time of the fire and in deciding as a matter of law that it was not?

(3) Did the trial court err in refusing to allow defendants to amend their answers at the trial and in excluding certain evidence hereinafter mentioned?

1. We are of the opinion that the question whether this concealment was fraudulent or whether the fact concealed materially increased the risk properly were submitted to the jury. 1 Mason's Minn. St. 1927, § 3370, provides: "No oral or written misrepresentation made by the assured, or in his behalf, in the negotiation of insurance, shall be deemed material, or defeat or avoid the policy, or prevent its attaching, unless made with intent to deceive and defraud, or unless the matter misrepresented increases the risk of loss." This provision is applicable to fire insurance contracts as well as to life and other insurance contracts. The trial court instructed the jury on the theory that this statute was applicable. We think this theory is correct. Though the statute is couched in such terms as to include only active misrepresentations, we perceive that it was intended to and does include passive misrepresentations, that is, concealment of known facts.

Under this statute, in order to avoid the policy, it is apparent that the matter concealed, in this case the contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company, either must have been concealed with an intent to deceive and defraud, or else that the matter concealed must have increased the risk insured against. The jury was instructed that they could find either that the matter was fraudulently concealed or that it increased the risk. They found for plaintiff, and so found that neither state of facts existed.

It is clear to us that the jury well could find that the concealment was not fraudulent. All the insurance was taken through one Murphy, an insurance broker in St. Cloud. The issuance of these particular policies to the Ice Service Company, Inc., was a renewal of previous insurance on the same icehouse. Plaintiff testified that, at the time of this renewal and at the time that he obtained the companies' consent to the assignments, it did not even occur to him to disclose the Cedar Lake contract, and that he thought it was unnecessary to do so. In fact there is a lack of material and substantial evidence showing actual intent to defraud on the part of plaintiff or on the part of the Ice Service Company, Inc. The jury was completely justified in concluding that the contract with the Cedar Lake Ice & Fuel Company was not concealed with an intent to defraud.

Whether or not the existence of this contract materially increased the risk was a fair question for the jury. The jury was amply instructed in this regard, and found for plaintiff, thereby indicating that in its opinion the existence of this contract was not material to the risk, in that it did not increase the risk.

"Usually it is for a jury to decide whether a misrepresentation has in fact been made, whether it is material, whether it is made with intent to deceive and defraud, or whether the matter misrepresented in fact increases the risk of loss." Mack v. Pacific Mutual Life Ins. Co., 167 Minn. 53, 57, 208 N. W. 410, 412. Here it cannot be said that this contract, the existence of which was concealed, increased the risk of loss as a matter of law. As a matter of fact the existence of this contract did not increase the risk in the sense that gasoline or dynamite stored on the premises would. It created only a so-called moral hazard. This undisclosed contract perhaps no more increased the risk of loss than would a mortgage or other incumbrance upon the premises. Surely it was a fair question for the jury's determination as to whether the existence of this unrevealed contract increased the risk of loss so as to avoid...

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