Insurance Company v. Newton,
89 U.S. 32 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Insurance Company v. Newton, 89 U.S. 22 Wall. 32 32 (1874)

Insurance Company v. Newton

89 U.S. (22 Wall.) 32


1. Every admission upon which a party relies is to be taken as an entirety of the fact which makes for his side, with the qualifications which limit, modify, or destroy its effect. When, therefore, the agent and officers of an insurance company stated to the agent of a party claiming upon a policy of insurance that the preliminary proofs presented were sufficient as to the death of the insured, but that they showed that the insured had committed suicide, the whole admission must be taken together. If sufficient to establish the fact of the death of the insured, it was also sufficient to show the manner of his death.

2. The preliminary proofs presented to an insurance company in compliance with the condition of its policy of insurance are admissible as prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein against the insured and on behalf of the company.

Mrs. Newton, widow of J. H. Newton, brought suit in the court below, against the Mutual Life Insurance Company

Page 89 U. S. 33

of Newark, New Jersey, upon two policies of insurance on the life of her husband issued by the company's agent at St. Louis.

The policies stipulated for the payment of the insurance money within ninety days after due notice and proof of the death of the party insured, but they provided also that the policies should be void if the insured should die by his own hand.

In answer to the action, the company averred that the insured did thus die, and that the policies thereupon ceased to be binding.

The insured died at Los Angeles, in California, in June, 1870, and proofs of his death were delivered by the father of the plaintiff to the agent of the company in August following. These proofs consisted of several affidavits giving the time, place, and circumstances of his death, and the record of the finding of the jury upon the coroner's inquest. The finding was that the deceased came to his death "by a pistol shot fired by a pistol in his own hand through the heart."

On the trial, the father of the plaintiff testified that he was the agent, in the matter of these policies, of his daughter, and that, acting in that capacity, he had delivered the written proofs mentioned to the agent of the company at St. Louis, and had demanded payment of him, and afterwards also of the officers of the company at the home office in Newark; that at neither place was any objection made either by the agent or the officers of the company to the form or fullness of the proofs of the death of the insured; that the agent had said that they were sufficient as to form, but that at both places, objection was made at the same time that the proofs disclosed a case of suicide, and on that account payment of the insurance was refused.

The plaintiff having closed her case, the company offered as evidence the preliminary proofs of the death of the party insured and presented to the company by the father, as above said. The court excluded them, and the company excepted. In its charge, the court, having referred to the affidavits presented by the plaintiff, said:

Page 89 U. S. 34

"It appears that the company, upon receiving the affidavits, claimed that they showed that Newton had taken his own life, and refused to pay, and the agent has so testified on the stand as a witness, and says the company never denied or doubted the fact of Newton's death, and that the affidavits showed it; but placed their refusal to pay upon the distinct and specific ground that he took his own life, and that this fact appeared (as the company claimed) from the proofs of loss furnished by the plaintiff."

"Under these circumstances, the court instructs you that the defense based upon want of notice and proof of death, is not sustained."

"On the merits the company sets up the defense that the deceased 'died by his own hand' -- that is, that he purposely took his own life. This defense is met by a denial."

"This is an affirmative defense, and hence the burden of showing, by a fair preponderance of testimony, that Newton purposely took his own life, rests upon the defendant."

To this charge the defendant excepted, and verdict and judgment having been rendered for the plaintiff the company brought the case here, on exceptions to the evidence and to the charge.

Page 89 U. S. 35

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