Insurance Companies v. Weides
81 U.S. 375

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U.S. Supreme Court

Insurance Companies v. Weides, 81 U.S. 14 Wall. 375 375 (1871)

Insurance Companies v. Weides

81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 375

Syllabus

1. A statement in figures of the value of certain merchandise destroyed by fire, which statement professed to be a copy of another and original statement contained in a book -- itself destroyed in the fire accompanied by proof that on a certain day the witnesses took a correct inventory of the merchandise and that it was correctly reduced to writing by one of them and entered in the volume burnt, and that what is offered is a correct copy, may, on a suit against insurers, be received in evidence to fix the value of the merchandise burnt, even though there be no independent recollection by the witnesses affirming to the correctness of the original statement of what they found the value of the merchandise to be.

2. Under a policy one of whose conditions is that in case of loss, the assured, after furnishing evidence of his loss, shall submit to an examination

Page 81 U. S. 376

under oath, and until such examination should be permitted no loss should be paid, held that the insurers could not, as a condition of recovery, compel the assured to answer questions as to the sum percent of claim for which he had settled with other parties insuring him.

3. Under a policy one of whose conditions is that in case of loss, the assured should produce "certified copies" of till bills and invoices, the originals of which had been lost, and exhibit the same for examination to any person named by the insurers, and that until the proofs, declarations, and certificates were produced and examinations and appraisals permitted the loss should not be payable, held, in the absence of proof when the insured was requested to produce duplicate bills of purchase -- whether before the commencement of the action or afterwards, and of proof whether there was neglect or refusal of the insured to comply -- that the insurers, even though they gave proof tending to show that the insured were requested to produce duplicates of invoices, could not properly ask an instruction that if the jury believed the assured were requested by the insurers to produce "duplicates" of invoices of goods purchased by them, the originals of which were alleged by them to be destroyed, and neglected to do so before the commencement of the action, no right to recover existed.

4. Under a policy one of whose conditions is that fraud or false swearing on the part of the assured in an examination which, by the terms of the policy, he was bound to submit to on a claim by him for loss, it is only fraudulent false swearing in furnishing the preliminary proofs or in the examination which avoids the policy; and whether there has been such false swearing is a matter for the jury to determine.

C. & J. R. Weide insured in four different companies a stock of goods which they had, all the policies being alike and each containing clauses thus:

"In case of loss the assured shall forthwith give notice of said loss to the companies, and as soon after as possible render a particular account of such loss, signed and sworn to by them, stating whether any and what other insurance has been made on the same property, giving the actual cash value of the property, their interest therein, for what purpose and by whom the building insured, or containing the property insured, and the several parts thereof, were used; when and how the fire originated; and shall also produce a certificate, under the hand and seal of a magistrate, . . . nearest to the place of the fire, stating that he has examined the circumstances attending the loss,

Page 81 U. S. 377

knows the character and circumstances of the assured, and verily believes that the assured has, without fraud, sustained loss on the property insured, to the amount which such magistrate shall certify; and the assured shall, if required, submit to an examination under oath, by any person appointed by the companies, and subscribe to such examination when reduced to writing; and shall also produce their books of account and other vouchers of all property hereby insured, whether damaged or not damaged, and shall also produce certified copies of all bills and invoices, the originals of which have been lost, and exhibit the same for examination by anyone named by the company. . . . All fraud, or attempt at fraud, or false swearing on the part of the assured, shall cause a forfeiture of all claim under this policy."

A fire having occurred and the goods insured having been burnt, the Weides sued the companies on the policies. On the trial, it became material to prove what was the quantity and value of the goods which the plaintiffs had when the fire occurred. As bearing upon this, evidence was introduced, without objection, tending to show that the plaintiffs took a correct inventory of their stock on the 28th of February, 1866, which was correctly reduced to writing by one of them in an inventory book; that the prices or values were correctly footed up therein; that at the same time the footings were correctly entered by one of the plaintiffs upon the flyleaf of an exhausted ledger, and afterwards transferred also by one of the plaintiffs to the flyleaf of a new ledger; that neither of the plaintiffs could remember the amount of such inventory or footings, and that both the inventory book and the exhausted ledger had been destroyed. The plaintiffs then offered the entry of the footings upon the flyleaf of the new ledger, which the court, in the face of objection by the other side, received.

The reception of this evidence made the first exception.

The plaintiffs then offered in evidence "the said first item on the debit side in their present ledger of said merchandise account therein," which the court received under objection; and afterwards "the said merchandise account in said ledger

Page 81 U. S. 378

contained," received in like manner. The reception of these two items of evidence made the second and third exceptions.

There being evidence tending to show that the real loss of the plaintiffs was far less than the total amount of insurance made by the companies sued, and that certain other insurance companies had made insurance on the plaintiffs' stock of merchandise, and also that the plaintiffs had made certain settlements at the rate of 54 cents on a dollar with certain of the said other insurance companies; and that on an examination of the plaintiffs before this action was commenced under oath, required by the defendant of the plaintiffs, under the already quoted conditions of the policies, the plaintiffs disclosed the fact that they had made such settlements, but on such examination refused to answer questions put to them by the defendant as to the amounts for which they made such settlements; the companies' defendant requested the court to instruct the jury thus:

"If the jury shall believe that the plaintiffs, or either of them, in the course of an examination on oath, under the policy, refused to answer any questions by which defendant could fairly estimate or reasonably infer the plaintiffs' real loss in the insured property, and have not before the commencement of this action answered the said questions under oath, then the jury must find for the defendant."

Which instruction the court refused to give; this refusal being the subject of a fourth exception.

There being also evidence tending to show that the plaintiffs were requested to produce duplicate bills of purchases, the defendant moved the court to instruct the jury as follows:

"If the jury believe from the evidence, that the plaintiffs were requested by the defendants to produce duplicates of invoices of goods purchased by them, the originals of which were alleged by them to be destroyed, and neglected to do so before the commencement of this action, their right of action never accrued, and the jury must find for the defendant."

Which instruction the court refused to give, this refusal being the matter of the fifth exception.

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So to the testimony of the plaintiffs tending to show material discrepancy from material statements made by them in their proofs of loss and their examination on oath under the policy, the defendant moved the court, as his fourth prayer, to instruct the jury as follows:

"If the jury shall believe that the plaintiffs testifying on this trial have made statements materially differing from statements knowingly made under oath in their proofs of loss, whether in their particular account made to the defendant, or any examination on oath submitted to by them, under the terms of the policy, this is false swearing, and the jury must find for the defendant."

Which instruction the court refused to give.

In the examination on oath made by the plaintiffs under the policy, the plaintiffs having stated their outstanding debts to be between $18,000 and $20,000, and having stated in evidence before the jury that their indebtedness did not exceed $8,000 at the time of the fire, and there being evidence tending to show that plaintiffs knowingly made the statement in their examination on oath, and subscribed and made oath to the same, the defendant moved the court, as a fifth prayer, to instruct the jury as follows:

"In their examinations under the policy, plaintiffs seem to have sworn that the outstanding debts of their firm amounted to between $18,000 and $20,000 at the time of the fire. In their testimony here they state positively that their indebtedness did not exceed $8,000 at that time. If the jury shall believe that they knowingly made the statement set forth in their examination on oath and subscribed and made oath to the same, the jury must find for the defendants."

Which motion or request the court refused to give; their refusal of these fourth and fifth prayers making a sixth and seventh exception.

The reception of the evidence of the footings on the flyleaf of the new ledger and the refusals to charge as requested were the matters assigned for error.

There were two other errors assigned arising from a refusal by the court to lay down as rules of law a certain rule

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for the jury to pursue, in computing the amount of stock from certain data. But the counsel of the companies in this Court, while asserting that the rule was undoubtedly correct arithmetically, candidly admitted that it could not be stated as a rule of law to be laid down by the court. The requests, therefore, need not be stated.

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