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AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY v. DAVEY.

decided: December 19, 1887.

AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
DAVEY.



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY.

Author: Harlan

[ 123 U.S. Page 740]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

By its policy, issued July 16, 1878, the AEtna Life Insurance Company insured the life of William A. Davey in the sum of ten thousand dollars, payable to his wife, the present defendant in error, within ninety days "after due notice and proof of the death" of the insured, during the continuance of the policy. Among the questions in the application for the policy were the following: "5. Are the habits of the party sober and temperate? 6. Has the party ever been addicted to the excessive or intemperate use of any alcoholic stimulants or opium, or does he use any of them often or daily?" To the first question the answer was "Yes;" to the second, "No." The application, which by agreement was made the basis of the contract, contained a warranty of the truth of the answers to the above and other questions, and that the policy should be void if they were in any respect false or fraudulent.

The policy was issued and accepted upon the following among other conditions: 1. That the answers, statements, representations, and declarations contained in or endorsed upon the application, made part of the contract, are warranted

[ 123 U.S. Page 741]

     to be true in all respects, and that the policy should be absolutely null and void if obtained by or through any fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, or false statement; 2. That if the insured "shall become so far intemperate as to impair his health or induce delirium tremens, or if his death shall result from injuries received while under the influence of alcoholic liquor," the policy should be null and void, except as provided in the eighth section of the conditions. The latter section is in these words: "In every case when the policy shall cease, be or become void (except by fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, or any false statement), if the premiums for three entire years shall have been paid, the amount which by the seventh section of these conditions would be applied to the purchase of a paid-up policy, shall not be forfeited to the said company, but the same shall be due and payable in ninety days after due notice and proof of death of the said insured."

The insured died August 6, 1881, while on a visit at Alexandria Bay. The company having received due notice and proof of his death, and having refused to pay the amount named in the policy, this action was brought by his widow. The company, besides pleading the general issue, made these special defences: That, contrary to the statements made in his application, for a long time prior to the issuing of the policy, was addicted to the excessive and intemperate use of alcoholic stimulants, and had used them often and daily; and that, in violation of one of the conditions of the contract, he became, after the issuing of the policy, so far intemperate as greatly to impair his health and to induce delirium tremens.

At the trial, evidence was introduced tending to establish both of these special defences. But there was also evidence tending to show that the insured was not, prior to the issuing of the policy, addicted to the excessive or intemperate use of alcoholic stimulants, and that he did not, after that date, become so far intemperate as to impair his health or induce delirium tremens.

There was a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for the sum named in the policy, with damages to the amount of $1419.82.

[ 123 U.S. Page 742]

     Upon the issue as to the truth or falsity of the answer to the sixth question in the application for the policy, the court instructed the jury, in substance, that they could not find the answer to be untrue, unless the insured had, prior to the issuing of the policy, been addicted to the excessive or intemperate use of alcoholic stimulants or opium, or at the time of the application habitually used some of them often or daily. The charge, upon this point, followed almost the identical words of the question propounded to the insured, and is unobjectionable, unless, as is contended, the court erred in using the word "habitually;" implying thereby that the answer of "No" was a fair and true one, if the use by the insured of stimulants, at the time the policy was issued, was not so frequent or to such an extent as to indicate, in that respect, a fixed, settled course or habit of life. We are of opinion that the question put to the insured was properly interpreted by the court. The inquiry as to whether the insured had ever been addicted to the excessive or intemperate use of alcoholic stimulants, and, whether, at the time of the application, he used alcoholic stimulants "often or daily" was, in effect, an inquiry as to his habit in that regard; not whether he used such stimulants or opium at all, but whether he used any of them habitually. If he was addicted to the excessive use of them, he was habitually intemperate; and to use them often or daily is, according to the ordinary acceptation of those words, to use them habitually. That this is the correct interpretation of the words is partly shown by the fifth question, "Are the habits of the party sober and temperate?"

But we are of opinion that the court below erred in its interpretation of the words in the policy which refer to the use of strong drinks by the insured after he obtained it. Having secured his agreement and warranty that he was not at that time, nor ever had been, habitually intemperate, the company sought to protect itself against an improper use by him, in the future, of alcoholic stimulants, by the provision that the policy should become null and void "if he shall become so ...


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