l. Evidence held
sufficient to go to the jury on the
question whether petitioner, holder of a War Risk Insurance policy
expiring October 31, 1920, was totally and permanently disabled on
or before that day and thereafter. P. 315 U. S.
2. In proving that the insured became totally and permanently
disabled before the expiration of his War Risk contract, evidence
of his conduct and condition during ensuing years is relevant. P.
315 U. S.
3. In an action on a War Risk Insurance policy, inferences may
be drawn unfavorable to a claim of total and permanent injury from
the failure of the insured to secure medical treatment which he
might have had. P. 315 U. S.
4. In an action on a War Risk Insurance policy wherein it was
claimed that the insured became totally and permanently disabled
before October 31, 1920, the date of the expiration of the policy,
and remained so, it was error for the District Court to exclude
evidence of his condition subsequently to December 9, 1935, when he
was adjudged incompetent by a county probate court. Refusal to
admit evidence of his condition after that date, though erroneous,
was not prejudicial to the Government's case. P. 315 U. S. 100
116 F.2d 812 reversed.
Certiorari, 314 U.S. 588, to review a judgment which reversed a
judgment of the District Court in favor of the plaintiff Halliday
in an action on a War Risk Insurance policy.
Page 315 U. S. 95
MR. JUSTICE BYRNES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a suit brought by the petitioner, through his Committee,
on a $10,000 War Risk Insurance policy. The complaint alleged that
petitioner had become permanently and totally disabled by April 2,
1919, the date on which he was honorably discharged by the Army.
The insurance contract was in effect on that date, and remained in
effect until October 31, 1920. At the close of all the evidence,
the government's motion for a directed verdict was denied. The jury
returned a verdict for petitioner, and found that he had become
permanently and totally disabled by April 2, 1919. The government
moved for a new trial, the motion was denied, and judgment was
entered on the verdict. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals
reversed. 116 F.2d 812. It held that there was insufficient
evidence to go to the jury, and it remanded the case to the
District Court with directions to set aside the verdict and to
enter judgment in favor of the government.
Petitioner sought certiorari on two grounds: that the Circuit
Court of Appeals had erred in holding that there was insufficient
evidence for the jury, and that, even if the evidence was
insufficient, under Rule 50(b) of the Rules of Civil Procedure,
] the Circuit Court
Page 315 U. S. 96
power to direct entry of judgment for the government without a
new trial. We granted certiorari, as we had in Berry v. United
Conway v. O'Brien,
] because of the importance of the question
concerning Rule 50(b). However, as in those cases, we do not reach
that problem, since we are of the opinion that the evidence was
sufficient to support the verdict.
The insurance contract, the Act of Congress which authorized it,
] and the
regulations issued pursuant to that Act [Footnote 5
] obliged petitioner to prove that he was
permanently and totally disabled on or before October 31, 1920, the
date of expiration of the contract. We think there was evidence
from which, if believed, the jury could have drawn this
Period prior to October 31, 1920.
to his friends and neighbors as a normal and healthy young man
before his induction into the Army on June 23, 1918. In August, he
sailed for France, and in September, he injured his back and was
admitted to a camp hospital. From that time until his discharge, he
was examined on several occasions by Army physicians. Their reports
reveal that he was "very nervous," and that he gave "impressions of
While much of the testimony was not specific as to time, several
of the witnesses described the appearance and
Page 315 U. S. 97
behavior of the petitioner immediately following his discharge
in April, 1919. The jury was clearly warranted in regarding their
testimony as applicable to the period during which the insurance
policy remained in force.
Dr. J. N. Land, a general practitioner who had been "the family
physician of the Halliday family" and who had known petitioner from
infancy, testified that, from 1919 on, petitioner was the victim of
psychoneurosis and hypochrondria. These ills caused him to talk
about himself constantly, to imagine the existence of symptoms, and
to become very unfriendly and suspicious. The witness "would not
have advised him to do any work since he has been out of the Army,"
and was of the opinion that work "would have been harmful to him,"
and would have resulted in "a complete collapse." At the time of
his discharge from the Army, the doctor "didn't hold any hope for
his recovery." The Circuit Court of Appeals considered this
testimony of "little probative force," chiefly because of Dr.
Land's admission that he had not examined petitioner professionally
until about 1932. But the doctor testified that he had seen
petitioner "on the streets or in a drugstore" "at least two or
three times a year, possibly more . . . all the way from 1919."
Petitioner talked to him "every chance he has got since 1919." In
the course of these conversations, petitioner would describe his
condition at length and ask the witness to do something for him.
While the Circuit Court may have regarded the probative force of
this evidence as "little," it was clearly proper for the jury to
conclude from it and from their understanding of small town life
that these encounters and his earlier intimacy with the Halliday
family afforded Dr. Land an opportunity to form a reliable estimate
of petitioner's condition.
Other witnesses, including his wife and brothers and neighbors,
testified that, when he returned from the war, petitioner "was
suspicious of everybody," "didn't seem to
Page 315 U. S. 98
be the same man," "seemed to be a man that didn't have a grip on
himself," "didn't have the best control of himself." They described
him as "a physical wreck," "nervous," "not right," "a complete
physical and mental wreck, very badly torn up physically and
mentally." And one brother testified that petitioner's condition
upon his return was "practically the same as it is today."
Period following October 31, 1920.
While it is true
that total and permanent disability prior to the expiration of the
insurance contract must be established, evidence as to petitioner's
conduct and condition during the ensuing years is certainly
relevant. It is a commonplace that one's state of mind is not
always discernible in immediate events and appearances, and that
its measurement must often await a slow unfolding. This difficulty
of diagnosis and the essential charity of ordinary men may
frequently combine to delay the frank recognition of a diseased
mind. Moreover, the totality, and particularly the permanence, of
the disability as of 1920 are susceptible of no better proof than
that to be found in petitioner's personal history for the ensuing
15 years. [Footnote 6
Petitioner's wife testified that, during this period, he was
unable to do a full day's work, that he threatened to commit
suicide and to kill her and their children, and that he feared
attempts to poison him. She stated that, although they rented one
farm and later bought but never paid for another, they hadn't "done
any farming much," and had "just had little patches," and that she
and hired hands had been responsible even for this limited
enterprise. Dr. Land testified that the mental disorder had
gradually progressed since the war.
Page 315 U. S. 99
The reports of government medical examiners and the records of
government hospitals reveal a diagnosis of hypochondria on February
14, 1921. And, on November 24, 1925, petitioner was found to be
psychoneurotic and neurasthenic. On that date, he informed the
medical examiner that he was unable to work, that he lacked
confidence, and that he was often depressed and seized by fear. He
complained of "a great many things which physical examination fails
to reveal." Reports of subsequent examinations up to and including
April 11, 1935, contain similar information and diagnoses. Finally,
on December 9, 1935, at the instance of Dr. Land, petitioner was
adjudged incompetent by a county Probate Court, and his wife was
appointed as a committee to handle his affairs.
In support of its conclusion, the Circuit Court of Appeals
observed that "insured's failure to secure adequate
hospitalization" leaves it
"highly speculative whether insured's ailments, whatever these
may have been, would not have been cured by the medical treatment
which was in his potential grasp."
There can be no doubt that evidence of the failure of attempted
treatment would have been highly persuasive of the permanence of
petitioner's disability. And the jury was entitled to draw
inferences unfavorable to his claim from the absence of such
evidence. However, this was but one of the many factors which the
jury was free to consider in reaching its verdict. In the face of
evidence of a mental disorder of more than 15 years' duration, it
can hardly be said that the absence of this single element of proof
was fatal to petitioner's claim. Moreover, inferences from failure
to seek hospitalization and treatment must be drawn with the utmost
caution in cases of mental disorder where, as here, there is reason
to believe that one of the manifestations of the very sickness
itself is fear and suspicion of hospitals and institutions.
Although it was unnecessary to its disposition of the case, the
Circuit Court of Appeals considered and noted
Page 315 U. S. 100
its agreement with the government's objection to the District
Court's refusal to admit evidence of petitioner's condition
subsequent to December 9, 1935, the date on which petitioner was
adjudged incompetent by the county probate court. [Footnote 7
] We think that the District
Court's ruling was erroneous, but there is nothing to show that it
was seriously prejudicial to the government. Neither in the
District Court nor in this Court has the government suggested its
ability to produce evidence from the period subsequent to 1935
which would substantially alter the state of the record.
The case is remanded to permit the reinstatement of the judgment
of the District Court.
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS and MR. JUSTICE JACKSON took no part in the
consideration or decision of this case.
The same ruling was embodied in the instructions to the
"Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at the close of
all the evidence is denied or for any reason is not granted, the
court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to
a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion.
Within 10 days after the reception of a verdict, a party who has
moved for a directed verdict may move to have the verdict and any
judgment thereon set aside and to have judgment entered in
accordance with his motion for a directed verdict; or if a verdict
was not returned such party, within 10 days after the jury has been
discharged, may move for judgment in accordance with his motion for
a directed verdict. A motion for a new trial may be joined with
this motion, or a new trial may be prayed for, in the alternative.
If a verdict was returned, the court may allow the judgment to
stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or
direct the entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been
directed. If no verdict was returned, the court may direct the
entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been directed, or
may order a new trial."
312 U. S. 450
312 U. S. 492
War Risk Insurance Act of October 6, 1917, c. 105, § 402, 40
Bulletin No. 1, Treasury Department, Regulations &
Procedure, United States Veterans' Bureau, Volume II, pp.
The trial judge instructed the jury:
"All of this evidence as to his condition in later years,
however, is to be considered by you for the purpose of determining
whether the insured became in fact permanently and totally disabled
on or before April 2, 1919, or before August, September, or
The same ruling was embodied in the instructions to the