Northwestern Life Ins. Co. v. Muskegon Bank
122 U.S. 501 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Northwestern Life Ins. Co. v. Muskegon Bank, 122 U.S. 501 (1887)

Northwestern Life Insurance Company v. Muskegon Bank

Argued May 4, 1887

Decided May 27, 1887

122 U.S. 501

Syllabus

An application for a policy of life insurance contained these questions and answers:

"Q. Are you, or have you ever been, in the habit of using alcoholic beverages or other stimulants?"

"A. Yes, occasionally."

"Q. Have you read and assented to the following agreement?"

"A. Yes."

The agreement referred to contained the following:

"It is hereby declared that the above are the applicant's own fair and true answers to the foregoing questions, and that the applicant is not, and will not become, habitually intemperate or addicted to the use of opium."

The policy declared that if the assured should become intemperate so as to impair his health or induce delirium tremens, or if any statement in the application on the faith of which the policy was made should be found to be in any material respect untrue, the policy should be void. The assured having died, his creditor for whose benefit the insurance was made sued the insurer to recover on the policy. The defendant set up (1) that at the time of making the policy, the insured was and had been habitually intemperate, and that his statements on which the policy had been issued were fraudulent and untrue; (2) that after the policy was issued, he became so intemperate as to impair his health and to induce delirium tremens. On both these issues the insurer assumed the affirmative, taking the opening and close at the trial.

Held:

(1) That the opinion of a witness as to the effect upon the assured at the time of the issue of the policy of a habit of drunkenness five years before that date (the witness knowing nothing of them during the intervening period) was properly excluded.

Page 122 U. S. 502

(2) That under the 1st issue, the defendant was bound to prove that the assured was habitually intemperate when the policy issued, and under the 2d that he was so after it issued.

(3) That while in a very clear case, a court may assume on the one hand that certain facts disclose a case of habitual intemperance, or on the other that they warrant the opposite conclusion, in the main, these are questions of fact to be submitted to the jury.

(4) That the charge of the court contained all that it was necessary for him to say by way of assisting the jury to arrive at a just verdict, and that he was not required to give them the same instructions over again in language selected by the defendants' counsel.

(5) That other requests made by defendants' counsel took from the jury the decision of the question which should be left to them.

If, in regard to any particular subject or point pertinent to the case, the court has laid down the law correctly and so fully as to cover all that is proper to be said on the subject, it is not bound to repeat this instruction in terms varied to suit the wishes of either party.

This was an action at law upon a policy of insurance. Judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant sued out this writ of error. The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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