Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Luchs
108 U.S. 498 (1883)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Luchs, 108 U.S. 498 (1883)

Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Luchs

Decided May 7, 1883

108 U.S. 498

I

N ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

A and B formed a partnership with a capital of $10,000, in which each was to contribute one-half the capital. A furnished B's moiety temporarily, and when after some time B failed to comply with his agreement, A, in May, 1869, applied for a policy on B's life for $5,000. One of the brothers of B had committed suicide. One of the questions asked A by the company was as to the number of brothers of B deceased, and causes of death; to this A made no answer. B, in the previous February, had applied to the same company for a policy, and in answer to the same question had replied: "Brothers dead, one; cause of death, accident." A policy was issued on A's application, by which the company agreed to insure the life of B for $5,000, and to pay the money "to the assured" within ninety days after notice of the death of B. B died in an insane asylum.

Held:

1. That although by the terms of the policy the life of B was insured, the person in whose favor it was assured was A, and that the action on the policy was rightfully brought in his name.

2. That A had an insurable interest in B's life to the extent of the moiety of the capital which B should have contributed to the firm, without respect to the condition of the partnership accounts, unless his estimate of the interest at the time of the application was made in bad faith.

3. That the failure of A to answer the question as to the suicide of B's brother could not necessarily be imputed as a fraud, and that the concealment of the cause of the brother's death in B's application could not be imported into this suit and applied to defeat A's application.

Suit to recover the sum of $5,000 alleged to be assured to the plaintiff below, and defendant in error, Luchs, on the life of one Dillenberg. Pleas: 1st., non debet; 2d., that the plaintiff had no insurable interest in Dillenberg's life; 3d., that the

Page 108 U. S. 499

policy was procured through fraudulent concealment of material facts, and by means of false representation. Luchs and Dillenberg entered into a co-partnership in which the capital was to be $10,000, of this, each to contribute one-half. Luchs actually contributed all, and when Dillenberg failed to contribute his half, he applied to the defendant's agent in Washington for a policy of $5,000 on Dillenberg's life. Dillenberg had three months previously applied to the same agent for a policy on his own life, and in reply to a question propounded respecting his family had made the following answer:

"Brothers living, one; ages, Brothers dead, one; ages, 48; health, good. 23; cause of death, accident."

Luchs to the same question replied

"Brothers living, one; ages, Brothers dead; age, 48; health, good. ; cause of death, ."

On this application a policy was issued of which the following is the material part:

"This policy of insurance witnesseth that the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, in consideration of the declarations and representations made to them in the application for this insurance and the sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars and ___ cents, to them in hand paid by Leopold Luchs, of Washington, D.C., and of the annual premium of one hundred and twenty-five dollars and cents, to be paid on or before the second day of June in every year during the continuance of this policy, to assure the life of Levi Dillenberg, of Washington, in the County of Washington, District of Columbia, in the amount of five thousand dollars, for the term of the whole continuance of his life."

"And the said company do hereby promise and agree to and with the said assured, his executors, administrators, and assigns well and truly to pay or cause to be paid in the City of Hartford the said sum insured to the said assured, his executors, administrators, or assigns within ninety days after due notice and proof of the death of the said Levi Dillenberg, deducting therefrom all indebtedness of the party for loans made by the company on this policy. "

Page 108 U. S. 500

At the trial, the court instructed the jury as follows:

"1. If the jury find from the evidence that in May, 1869, the plaintiff and Levi Dillenberg were in partnership, and that to that partnership the plaintiff contributed all the capital and both contributed their services, and that they shared the profits equally, and that the policy in suit was applied for by the plaintiff under an agreement between him and Levi Dillenberg whereby the latter undertook to pay the premiums on the same, and that this agreement was made by said Dillenberg because of an obligation which he agreed he was under to the plaintiff growing out of the receipt, past or prospective, by Dillenberg of one-half of the partnership profits, and that said policy was taken out by the plaintiff in good faith and not for the purpose of speculating on said Dillenberg's life, then they will render a verdict for the plaintiff on defendant's second plea."

"4. Since [in] the application upon which the policy in suit was issued, there is no answer to the questions 'brothers dead; age; cause of death,' it follows that there is no warranty in respect of the information called for by said questions."

The defendants excepted. The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff for the full amount. The defendants brought the case here on error.

Page 108 U. S. 502

MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was an action by Leopold Luchs on a policy of insurance upon the life of Levi Dillenberg, issued by the Connecticut Life Insurance Company in June, 1869. Luchs and Dillenberg were partners at the time in the business of buying and selling tobacco in the City of Washington. Their partnership was formed in October, 1866, each agreeing to contribute his services and one-half of the capital. It was understood that the money of Dillenberg was then invested in mining stocks, and could not at once be obtained. Luchs accordingly furnished the entire capital, which was over $10,000. Dillenberg never contributed his portion, and, about two years after the partnership was formed, his failure in this respect caused dissatisfaction and complaint. It was thereupon suggested by one Myers, who was employed by an agent of the insurance company, and who had been called in as an accountant to examine the books

Page 108 U. S. 503

of the concern, that, as a means of "adjusting the dispute or misunderstanding between the partners," a policy of insurance should be obtained upon the life of Dillenberg for the benefit of Luchs, and that Dillenberg should retire from the firm within a year afterwards. Nothing, however, was then done upon this suggestion, but in the following year, the policy in suit was procured.

1. The first question presented is as to the right of Luchs to sue upon it. It is plain from the parol evidence in the case that it was the intention both of Luchs and Dillenberg that the policy should be procured for the benefit of Luchs. The declaration, which is the application for the policy, begins with an averment that he, Luchs, is desirous of affecting an insurance upon the life of Dillenberg, and proceeds to state the latter's age, the condition of his health, the character of his habits, and that he, Luchs, has an interest in the life of Dillenberg to the amount of $10,000. The declaration is signed both by Luchs and Dillenberg, though it purports in every line to be the separate application of Luchs. It is accompanied by questions and answers, and to the first question, as to the name and residence of the person for whose benefit the insurance is proposed, the answer is: "Leopold Luchs, Washington, D.C." The answers also are signed both by Luchs and Dillenberg.

The policy was issued and delivered to Dillenberg, and retained by him until after the dissolution of the partnership, when he handed it to Luchs, stating that he gave it to him to show that he intended to do what was right and fair with him, and requested him to pay the premiums on it, promising to refund the money. The first two premiums were paid by Dillenberg, the others by Luchs. The difficulty in the question presented arises from the language of the policy. Omitting words not essential on this point, it reads as follows:

"This policy witnesseth that the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, in consideration of the declarations and representations made to them in the application for this insurance, and the sum of $125 to them in hand paid by Leopold Luchs, . . .

Page 108 U. S. 504

do assure the life of Levi Dillenberg. . . . And the said company do hereby promise . . . the said assured . . . to pay . . . said sum insured to the said assured, his executors, administrators, or assigns, within ninety days after due notice and proof of the death of the said Levi Dillenberg."

"It is hereby declared to be the true intent and meaning of this policy, and the same is accepted by the assured upon the express conditions that in case the said person whose life is hereby insured shall pass beyond the settled limits or the protection of the government of the United States, . . . this policy shall be null. It is also understood that if the proposal, answers, and declaration made by the said Leopold Luchs, which are hereby made part and parcel of this policy as fully as if herein recited, and upon the faith and warranty of which this agreement is made, shall be found in any respect untrue, this policy shall be null and void, or in case the said assured shall not pay the said annual premiums, . . . this policy shall cease."

"It is further agreed that this policy shall not take effect . . . until the premium above named shall be actually paid . . . during the life of the insured."

The contention of the plaintiff is that the words "the assured" in the policy apply to the person for whose benefit the policy was effected -- that is, Luchs -- and not to the party whose life was insured.

There are undoubtedly instances where this distinction between the terms "assured" and "insured" is observed, though we do not find any judicial consideration of it. The application of either term to the party for whose benefit the insurance is effected, or to the party whose life is insured, has generally depended upon its collocation and context in the policy. We are of opinion that, reading the policy here in connection with the declaration and the answers of Luchs, which form a part of it, and indicate the object of procuring it, the term "assured" must be held as applicable to him, for whose benefit it was effected.

The policy considered in Aetna Life Insurance Company v. France,94 U. S. 562, gives some support to this view. There, the policy was effected by a brother for a sister's benefit, and

Page 108 U. S. 505

term assured was held to apply to the sister, for she recovered in a suit brought in connection with her husband on the policy. The attention of the court does not appear, however, to have been directed to that term. It may be said also that there could be little doubt as to its proper application in that case, as it was followed by the words "and her executors, administrators, or assigns," thus limiting it to the sister. In other respects the language is substantially identical with that of the policy under consideration.

2. The second question presented for our determination is whether Luchs had an insurable interest in the life of Dillenberg. Upon this we have no doubt. Dillenberg was his partner, and had not paid his promised proportion of the capital of the concern. At the time the policy was applied for, he was still in default, and although it might have turned out that the actual amount due, upon a settlement of accounts, was less than the promised proportion, it was not a matter definitely ascertained at the time. Besides what was thus due to him, Luchs was interested in having Dillenberg continue in the partnership. He had such an interest, therefore, as took from the policy anything of a wagering character.

As this Court said in Warnock v. Davis,104 U. S. 775, 104 U. S. 779:

"It is not easy to define with precision what will, in all cases, constitute an insurable interest, so as to take the contract out of the class of wager policies. It may be stated generally, however, to be such an interest arising from the relations of the party obtaining the insurance, either as creditor of or surety for the assured or from the ties of blood or marriage to him, as will justify a reasonable expectation of advantage or benefit from the continuance of his life. It is not necessary that the expectation of advantage or benefit should be always capable of pecuniary estimation. . . . But in all cases, there must be a reasonable ground, founded upon the relations of the parties to each other, either pecuniary or of blood or affinity, to expect some benefit or advantage from the continuance of the life of the assured."

Certainly Luchs had a pecuniary interest in the life of Dillenberg on two grounds: because he was his creditor and because

Page 108 U. S. 506

he was his partner. The continuance of the partnership, and, of course, a continuance of Dillenberg's life furnished a reasonable expectation of advantage to himself. It was in the expectation of such advantage that the partnership was formed, and, of course, for the like expectation, was continued.

In Morrell v. Trenton Mutual Life & Fire Insurance Company, 10 Cushing 282, a policy was taken out by the plaintiff upon the life of his brother, who was about going to California, on an agreement that the latter should pay to him one-fourth of his earnings for the following year. In an action on the policy, it was contended that the plaintiff had no insurable interest upon the life of the insured, but the court, after deciding that he had such an interest from the fact that he held a promissory note signed by the firm of which the insured was a partner, also said that it was strongly inclined to the opinion that the plaintiff had another interest in the life of the person insured. "He had," said the court,

"a subsisting contract with that person, made on a valuable consideration, by which he was to receive one-quarter part of his earnings in the mines of California for one year. Such an interest cannot, from its nature, be valued or apportioned. It was an interest upon which the policy attached. By the loss of his life within the year, the person whose life was insured lost the means of earning anything more, and the plaintiff was deprived of receiving his share of such earnings to an uncertain and indefinite amount."

In Trenton Mutual Life & Fire Insurance Company v. Johnson, 4 Zabriskie's Reports 576, a policy was taken out by the plaintiff on the life of one Van Middlesworth for $1,000, one-half payable to the plaintiff and the other half to Van Middlesworth. They belonged to an association called the New Brunswick and California Mining and Trading Company, the capital stock of which consisted of forty-five shares of $600 each. The company consisted partly of shareholding members and partly of active members, the shareholders being each required to furnish a substitute to proceed to the mines of the company. The plaintiff owned one share, advanced $600 of capital, and procured Van Middlesworth to go out as his substitute,

Page 108 U. S. 507

which he did, and acted as his agent and substitute, and the assets of the company having been divided in California, he received the plaintiff's share, and afterwards died, not having paid it over. By one of the articles of the association, all treasures and all the proceeds of the labor of each member, and all profits, were to go into a general fund for the benefit of the association. To the action brought on the policy it was objected that the plaintiff had no insurable interest in the life of the deceased. On this question, the court said:

"In the present case, Johnson had a direct interest in the life of his substitute, whose earnings were to constitute a part of the joint funds, of which he was entitled to his share, an interest fully equivalent to the interests of a wife in the life of her husband, of a child in that of a parent, or a sister in that of a brother. And at Van Middlesworth's death, although prior to that time the company had been virtually dissolved, he had an interest in him as his creditor to the extent of his share of the assets in his hands."

In Bevin v. Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, 23 Conn. 244, the plaintiff had obtained a policy of insurance for $1,000 on the life of one Barstow, to whom he had advanced $350, besides articles of personal property, to enable him to go to California and there labor for one year, on an agreement that he would account to the plaintiff for one-half of his gains. The court said that Barstow was the plaintiff's debtor and partner, giving to the plaintiff an interest in the continuance of his life, as by that means, through his skill and efforts, the plaintiff might expect not only to get back what he had advanced, but to acquire great gains and profits in the enterprise. "All the books," the court added,

"hold this to be a sufficient interest to sustain a policy of insurance. As to the value of this interest, we think it must be held to be what the parties agreed to consider it in the policy. This was the sum asked for by the plaintiff, and which the defendants agreed to pay in case of death, and for which they were paid in the premiums given by the insured. The policy must, we think, be held to be a valued policy."

And, after referring to a policy

Page 108 U. S. 508

of insurance obtained by a sister on her brother's life, where no question seemed to have been made as to the amount, but only whether it was an interest which the law would recognize, the court said:

"So in every case where a person on his own account insures the life of a relative, if the sum named in the policy is not to be the rule of damages, we inquire what is? The impossibility of satisfactorily going into the question in most cases, and especially where there is nothing to guide the inquiry, and everything is uncertain, would lead us to hold that a policy like this is a valued policy as most consistent with the understanding of the parties and the principles of law."

3. The third question presented for determination relates to alleged breaches of the warranty of the policy. It is alleged that the policy was issued upon the faith of certain statements and answers of the plaintiff which were untrue. These statements were first that the plaintiff had an interest in the life of Dillenberg to the amount of $10,000 when in fact he had no interest in it, and second that the cause of the death of one of the brothers of Dillenberg was accident when in fact he had committed suicide.

As to the alleged breach of the warranty of the interest of the plaintiff in the life of Dillenberg, there is this answer: the statement of the plaintiff as to the amount of his interest was necessarily conjectural. No one can affirm with absolute certainty that he has an interest to a definite sum in the life of another where the interest depends upon the result of an existing partnership or other business transactions not yet terminated. The value of his interest in such cases will always be more or less a matter of opinion. The statement in that regard must of necessity be taken as a mere estimate. If, therefore, the plaintiff had an interest in the life of Dillenberg and his estimate was made in good faith, the declaration cannot be deemed untrue so as to constitute a breach of the warranty. The extent of a man's interest in the life of another, depending upon a continuing partnership or the results of business transactions not yet completed, is in the nature of things

Page 108 U. S. 509

uncertain, and in such cases all that can be required is that he had an actual interest, and that his estimate was made in good faith, without any purpose to deceive. See Bevin v. Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, cited above.

Here, the plaintiff valued his interest and took out a policy for only half of the sum estimated. He did not procure the policy for any purpose of speculating upon the duration of the life of Dillenberg. From the finding of the jury, we must take as true that his representation was made in good faith upon an honest opinion as to the value of his interest.

As to the alleged misstatement of the cause of the death of a brother of the deceased, it is sufficient to observe that there is no allegation on this subject in the answers of the plaintiff, and the point is taken simply because, in an answer to a previous application, that statement was made. Such previous answer cannot be incorporated into the present policy. The reference to the previous application is made for the answer to a different inquiry.

The may be, as stated by counsel for the company, some inconsistencies between the charges given at its request and those given at the request of Luchs. The latter present all the disputed questions of fact to the jury, and if those granted at its request are erroneous, insofar as they differ, it is not for it to complain, as was well observed by counsel, that while the judge held Luchs within proper limits, itself was suffered to go beyond them.

Upon the whole record of the case, we find no error sufficient to justify a reversal of the judgment.

Judgment affirmed.

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