Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Akens - 150 U.S. 468 (1893)
U.S. Supreme Court
Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Akens, 150 U.S. 468 (1893)
Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Akens
Argued and submitted November 22-23, 1893
Decided December 4, 1893
150 U.S. 468
A policy of life insurance, payable in "thirty days after due notice and satisfactory evidence of death" and excepting this risk:
"Suicide -- The self-destruction of the insured in any form except upon proof that the same is the direct result of disease or of accident occurring without the voluntary act of the insured,"
covers the case of the insured's death as the direct result of taking poison when his mind is so far deranged as to be unable to understand the moral character of his act, even if he does understand its physical consequences, and it is sufficient to prove this at the trial, without stating it in the preliminary proof of death.
This was an action of assumpsit, brought January 14, 1888, by the executor of Archibald O. Smith, both citizens of Pennsylvania, against a life insurance company, a corporation of Connecticut, upon a policy of insurance, dated January 14, 1887, on Smith's life, in the sum of $10,000, payable in "thirty days after due notice and satisfactory evidence" of his death, and upon the express conditions that "the following risks are not assumed by this company under this contract," and that "in each and every of the foregoing cases, this policy shall become and be null and void." One of those risks and cases was as follows:
"Suicide. -- The self-destruction of the insured, in any form, except upon proof that the same is the direct result of disease or of accident occurring without the voluntary act of the insured."
The declaration, after setting out the policy, alleged that Smith died on February 23, 1887, having paid all the premiums, and complied with all the requirements of the policy, and that on March 16, 1887, good and sufficient proof of his death was made to the defendant.
The defendant pleaded nonassumpsit, with an affidavit of defense that Smith's death was a self-destruction, or suicide, the direct result of laudanum poison, administered by him to himself for the purpose and with the effect of causing his death, and contrary to the provision of the policy.
The plaintiff filed a replication, denying these allegations and alleging that if Smith's death was a self-destruction, it was the direct result of disease or of accident occurring without his voluntary act and without any purpose or intention of self-destruction or suicide, and his reasoning faculties at the time of taking the poison were so far impaired that he was not able to understand the moral character or the nature, consequence, and effect of the act he was about to commit, and it was not contrary to the provision of the policy.
At the trial, the plaintiff gave in evidence the policy and formal proof of death as alleged in the declaration, and rested his case. The defendant then introduced evidence tending to support the defense pleaded. The plaintiff then introduced evidence tending to show that Smith's reasoning faculties at the time he took the poison were so far impaired that he was not able to understand the moral character and the nature, effect, and consequence of the act he was about to commit, but, other than this, offered no evidence tending to show that his death was the direct result of disease or of accident occurring without his voluntary act.
Upon this evidence the defendant requested the court to instruct the jury as follows:
"First. If the jury believe from the evidence in the case that Smith, the insured, destroyed his own life, and that at the time of the self-destruction, he had sufficient capacity to understand the nature of the act which he was about to commit and the consequences which would result from it, then and it that case the plaintiff cannot recover on the policy sued on in this case."
"Second. If the jury believe from the evidence that the self-destruction of the said Smith was intended by him, he having sufficient capacity at the time to understand the nature of the act which he was about to commit, and the consequences
which would result from it, then and in that case it is wholly immaterial in the present case that he was impelled thereto by insanity, which impaired his sense of moral responsibility and rendered him to a certain extent irresponsible for his action."
"Third. If the jury believe from the evidence that Smith's life was ended February 23, 1887, by means of laudanum poison, administered by himself to himself, the plaintiff cannot recover on the policy sued upon in this case unless the jury believe also from the evidence that the self-destruction aforesaid of said Smith was the direct result of disease or of accident occurring without his voluntary action."
"Fourth. Under all the evidence in this case, the verdict of the jury should be for the defendant."
The court declined to give the first, second, and fourth instructions requested, and upon the third request instructed the jury as follows:
"The third point is affirmed, with this exception: that if the act of self-destruction was the result of insanity, and was with suicidal intent, and the mind of the insured was so far deranged as to have made him incapable of using a rational judgment in regard to the act he was about to commit, the defendant is liable; but if he was impelled to the act by an insane impulse, which the reason that was left him did not enable him to resist, or if his reasoning powers were so far overthrown by his mental condition that he could not exercise his reasoning faculties on the act he was about to commit, the defendant is liable. If from the evidence you believe that the insured, though excited or angry or depressed in mind from any cause, formed the determination to take his own life because, in the exercise of his usual reasoning faculties, he preferred death to life, then the defendant is not liable."
To this qualification of the third instruction, as well as to the refusal to give each of the other instructions requested, the defendant excepted, and, after verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for the amount of the policy, sued out this writ of error.