Sundquist v. Hardware Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of Minnesota

Decision Date08 June 1939
Docket NumberNo. 24997.,24997.
Citation21 N.E.2d 297,371 Ill. 360
CourtIllinois Supreme Court


Appeal from Appellate Court, Second District, on Appeal from the Circuit Court, Stark County; John T. Culbertson, Jr., Judge.

Action on fire insurance policies by Anton E. Sundquist against the Hardware Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Minnesota and others. A judgment for the plaintiff was affirmed by the Appellate Court, 296 Ill.App. 510, 16 N.E.2d 771, and the defendants were granted leave to appeal.

Affirmed.Clausen, Hirsh & Miller, of Chicago, and Shurtleff & Niehaus, of Peoria, for appellants.

F. B. Brian, of Toulon, and Andrews & Young, of Kewanee, for appellee.

SHAW, Chief Justice.

Anton E. Sundquist brought suit in the circuit court of Stark county to recover under certain fire insurance policies for loss sustained. The jury awarded damages in the amount of $9,259.95, and a judgment on that verdict was affirmed by the Appellate Court for the Second District. The case is before us on leave to appeal granted.

Sundquist conducted a retail furniture business in Galva, Illinois, carrying a stock of merchandise which he valued at between $18,000 and $23,000. The three appellant companies insured the appellee against loss or damage by fire in the amount of $8,000 from January 5, 1936, to January 5, 1937. Another policy in the amount of $1,000 insuring Sundquist against loss or damage by fire to the same merchandise was issued August 27, 1936, to cover the period from August 24, 1936, to August 24, 1937. The policies provided that each of the three appellant companies became severally liable to pay one-third of any loss sustained thereunder.

On December 24, 1936, the merchandise covered by the above described policies was destroyed by fire. Subsequently, the insurance companies refused payment on the grounds that appellee wilfully set fire to the building containing the merchandise and that he had falsely sworn that he did not know what caused the fire. The only issue raised on this appeal is the correctness of the ruling of the trial court in refusing to instruct the jury, at the request of the defendants, that the defense of incendiarism need only be established by a preponderance of the evidence. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the trial court instructed the jury that the defense of incendiarism must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

It appears that on the evening of December 24, 1936, between 9:30 and 10:30 o'clock, the appellee closed his furniture store and went to a cafe a few doors away to eat a late supper. He had been there a short time when one of his employees came into the restaurant and advised him that some ceiling lights had been left burning inside the store. Sundquist testified that after finishing his supper he returned to the store and extinguished the lights. He then drove to Toulon, where he resided and where he also operated another furniture store. The fire was discovered shortly after 11 o'clock that night.

The appellants contend that the fire was of incendiary origin and to establish such a defense introduced the testimony of a deputy State Fire Marshal, who stated that he, together with several volunteer firemen of Galva, while searching the debris had found a pile of burlap which they said was saturated with kerosene. The defendants also proved that, in a statement made to the State Fire Marshal, Sundquist stated that the only inflammable material in the store at the time of the fire was a small quantity of kerosene which had been used to mix with a sweeping compound. At the trial, Sundquist testified that there was kerosene in the store, but that it had been purchased on the advice of a plumber and was to be used to pour down a drain in an attempt to get rid of a gas odor which had been very noticeable in the store for some time. Sundquist further testified that there was a small quantity of roofing paint and cylinder oil in the basement of the store at the time of the fire. Several witnesses testified in his behalf that there was a noticeable odor of gas in the store and to the fact that certain pieces of furniture were wrapped in burlap while stored in the basement.

It was urged in the Appellate Court, and is again insisted here, that the trial court erred when it refused to give the following instruction on behalf of the defendants: ‘The court further instructs the jury that if you believe from a preponderance or greater weight of the evidence that the plaintiff, with intent to cheat and defraud the defendants, wilfully and maliciously set fire to or caused to be set fire to or burned or caused to be burned, the property described in the policies of insurance sued on, then your verdict should be for the defendants.’ This instruction will be recognized as a statement of the so-called ‘preponderance’ rule, as distinguished from the ‘reasonable doubt’ rule applying to cases in which, in a civil suit, the commission of a felony is alleged, either as a cause of action or a defense.

This court has heretofore adhered to the reasonable doubt rule requiring the facts constituting the felony to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Germania Fire Ins. Co. V. Klewer, 129 Ill. 599, 22 N.E. 489;Oliver v. Ross, 289 Ill. 624, 124 N.E. 800;Rost v. F. H. Noble & Co., 316 Ill. 357, 147 N.E. 258. However, in Rost v. Noble & Co., supra, we limited the rule to felonies, excluding misdemeanors, and pointed out that although followed in some of the States the principle had been generally abandoned. In the later case of People v. Small, 319 Ill. 437, 150 N.E. 435, we indicated a doubt as to whether or not this rule would again be applied in this State. The case before us now presents the necessity for further consideration of this principle.

So far as the briefs of both parties disclose, the decisions in England, where the reasonable doubt rule originated, leave it at least exceedingly doubtful if that rule is still in force there. Cooper v. Slade, 6 H.L.C. 746. In this country it seems clear that all other jurisdictions except Illinois, and possibly one other State, now apply the preponderance rule. Many of these States first adopted the reasonable doubt rule and later overruled their earlier decisions in favor of the preponderance rule. Thus, in New York, the earlier rule was adopted in 1826 in Woodbeck v. Keller, 6 Cow. 118, which was overruled in favor of the preponderance rule in 1889 in the case of People v. Briggs, 114 N.Y. 56, 20 N.E. 820. The reasonable doubt rule was adopted in California in 1875 (Merk v. Gelzhaeuser, 50 Cal. 631) and abandoned in 1898 when that case was overruled in Hearne v. De Young, 119 Cal. 670, 52 P. 150, 499. The same thing happened in Florida. Schultz v. Pacific Ins. Co., 14 Fla. 73, 77; Abraham v. Baldwin, 52 Fla. 151, 42 So. 591, 10 L.R.A.,N.S., 1051, 10 Ann.Cas. 1148. In Iowa, Bradley v. Kennedy, 2 G.Greene 231, was overruled in Welch v. Jugenheimer, 56 Iowa 11, 8 N.W. 673,41 Am.Rep. 77. In Maine, Thayer v. Boyle, 30 Me. 475, was...

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29 cases
  • Honeycutt v. Aetna Ins. Co., 73--1897
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    ...of proof that is heavier than the predominant weight of the evidence test established in Illinois by Sundquist v. Hartford Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 371 Ill. 360, 21 N.E.2d 297 (1939). The judge did not err in failing to give the reguested Charge 142. That instruction was probably suggested by ......
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    ...258, and then abandoned in favor of the preponderance of the evidence standard in Sundquist v. Hardware Mutual Fire Insurance Co. (1939), 371 Ill. 360, 363-65, 21 N.E.2d 297. In Drezner v. Civil Service Com. (1947), 398 Ill. 219, 75 N.E.2d 303, a field investigator for the Liquor Control Co......
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    ...this kind need be proved by only a preponderance of the evidence and need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Sundquist v. Hardward Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 371 Ill. 360 [where the reasonable doubt standard was [66 Ill.Dec. 583] proof required in a civil proceeding where conduct constitut......
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