Insurance Company v. Rodel
95 U.S. 232 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Insurance Company v. Rodel, 95 U.S. 232 (1877)

Insurance Company v. Rodel

95 U.S. 232

Syllabus

1. By a policy upon the life of A., for the benefit of his wife, an insurance company promised to pay her a certain sum,

"for her sole and separate use and benefit, ninety days after due notice and satisfactory evidence of the death of the said A., and of the just claim of the assured (or proof of interest, if assigned or held as security), under this policy, has been received and approved by the company."

Held, that the words "just claim of the assured" have reference to her claim or title to the policy, and not to the justness of her cause of action thereon.

2. A fact, disclosed by the proofs of the death of the insured furnished to the company, which might be set up as a defense to a suit on the policy, does not derogate from their sufficiency, nor bar the bringing of such suit.

3. Where a policy provides that it shall be void if the insured shall "die by his own hand," the court should not take from the jury, as insufficient to sustain a recovery, evidence tending to show that he was insane when he committed the act which caused his death. The weight of the evidence is for the jury to pass upon, although the court may, in its discretion, express its opinion thereon.

4. The testimony of ordinary persons as to the conduct, manner, and appearance of the insured, and to the impressions thereby made upon them, is competent to go to the jury upon the question of his insanity.

5. The charge of the court below upon that question, being in the language sanctioned and approved in Life Insurance Company v. Terry, 16 Wall. 580, was not erroneous.

Page 95 U. S. 233

This was an action on a policy, issued by the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company, upon the life of Emil G. Rodel, for the benefit of his wife, the plaintiff below. The policy was dated June 25, 1873, and contained a promise to pay to the plaintiff,

"for her sole and separate use and benefit, ninety days after due notice and satisfactory evidence of the death of the said Emil G. Rodel and of the just claim of the assured (or proof of interest, if assigned or held as security), under this policy, has been received and approved by the company."

It further contained, among other conditions, the following: that, in case the said Emil G. Rodel should "die by his own hand," the policy should be void. It was conceded that he died on the fifth day of December, 1873, from the effects of poison administered by his own hand, and this fact was set up in the answer, by way of defense: but the plaintiff in her replication averred that he was insane at the time, and not in possession of his mental faculties, and not responsible, in consequence, for his act, and denied that he committed suicide or died by his own hand, within the meaning and intention of the policy. Whether the deceased was insane or not when he took the poison was the principal issue in the cause. The company, however, in its answer, made another issue, by denying that it had ever received due notice and satisfactory evidence of the death of Rodel and of the just claim of the plaintiff under the policy; averring that the only proof and notice it had received from the plaintiff of Rodel's death, and of her claim under the policy, had been and was to the effect that

"said Emil G. Rodel committed suicide at about 6.35 o'clock, P.M., Friday, Dec. 5, 1873, in a saloon on northeast corner of Eleventh and Market Streets, in the City and County of St. Louis., Mo., by taking poison,"

as appeared from the certificate of the coroner accompanying and making part of said notice and proof received by the company, without any other proof of the death or of the circumstances thereof. The plaintiff in her replication averred, as she had done in her petition, that due notice and proof of his death and of her claim had been given, according to the terms of the policy.

Page 95 U. S. 234

On the trial, the plaintiff first put in evidence the policy, and the proofs of death which had been served on the company. The latter were in the usual form, but accompanied by the coroner's certificate, stating the cause of death as alleged in the answer. They were objected to as insufficient, the company contending that, by the policy itself, satisfactory notice and proof of death and of the just claim of the assured was a condition precedent to the right of demanding payment, and consequently to the right of bringing suit on the policy.

The court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence, and the company excepted.

There was a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for $5,130, whereupon the company brought the case here.

The other facts in the case, and the instruction given and those refused, are set forth in the opinion of the court.

Page 95 U. S. 237

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