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Kirschbaum v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Decided: April 19, 1945.

FRIEDE KIRSCHBAUM, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Supreme Court.

For the defendant-appellant, McCarter, English & Egner (Verling C. Enteman, of counsel).

For the plaintiff-respondent, James M. Dunn (Arthur C. Dunn, of counsel).

Colie

The opinion of the court was delivered by

COLIE, J. This is the appeal of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company from a judgment entered against it and in favor of Friede Kirschbaum, after a jury trial in the Passaic Circuit of the Supreme Court. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, hereinafter referred to as the Company, issued its policy insuring the life of Charles Kirschbaum for $5,000. In addition there was a supplemental contract of insurance whereby the Company agreed "to pay * * * Five Thousand dollars, upon receipt * * * of due proof of the death of the insured, as the result, directly and independently of all other causes, of bodily injuries sustained through external, violent and accidental means, provided * * * that death shall not have been the result of self-destruction." On March 12th, 1941, Charles Kirschbaum died under conditions hereinafter to be described. The Company paid the face amount of the policy but refused to pay the additional $5,000. The plaintiff, Friede Kirschbaum, then instituted suit against the

Company and it set up as a defense that the death of the insured was not the result directly and independently of all other causes, of bodily injuries sustained through external, violent and accidental means and as an additional defense asserted that the death of the insured was the result of self-destruction.

The cause came on for trial and the plaintiff proved that on March 12th, 1941, the insured, Charles Kirschbaum, was 46 years old and was engaged in the grinding and retail cutlery business. He was generally in good health and lived in his own home with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter. On the date of his death, Mr. Kirschbaum was at his place of business, carrying on his regular work. In the shop at the same time was his father, since deceased, and whose testimony was not available at the trial. Sometime in the forenoon, Mrs. Kirschbaum talked with her husband on the telephone and made an appointment with him to attend a moving picture performance about four o'clock that afternoon. At approximately one o'clock one Emil Klaucke, who was in the habit of picking up and delivering goods to Kirschbaum's customers, stopped in at the shop and saw Mr. Kirschbaum at work. The particular task at which he was then occupied was buffing large knives with blades 12 to 14 inches long. There were a number of such knives on the benches in the shop. The buffing wheel at which Mr. Kirschbaum was working was, according to this witness, in perfect condition. At about two or two-thirty o'clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Kirschbaum received a telephone call from her father-in-law, as a result of which she hurried to the shop and found her husband, Charles Kirschbaum, lying on the floor, bleeding profusely from a deep cut in the right wrist. When she saw him, he said, "Friede, help me." Her endeavors to stop the bleeding were unsuccessful so she called the Paterson General Hospital and an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter, but nevertheless Mr. Kirschbaum died. Later that day, Detective Schielke of the Paterson police force came to the shop and observed that the rag buffing wheel on one of the machines was wobbly and had a deep cut in it. There was proof that the wheel operated at a speed of 1,400 revolutions per minute.

On the floor was a blood-stained knife which had been partially buffed. There were also blood-stains on the floor below and on the ceiling above the buffing wheel referred to by the detective. On the defendant's case there was put in evidence a death certificate made out by the official medical examiner of Passaic County, Dr. George W. Surgent, which stated that the immediate cause of death was "suicide by cutting instrument -- right wrist -- shock from hemorrhage." Dr. Surgent also testified that Mr. Kirschbaum died from a marked loss of blood from a self-inflicted wound. Dr. George P. Olcott's opinion, based upon an examination of the post mortem photographs of the wound, was that the wound was self-inflicted. Both of these opinions were, in the main, grounded upon the presence of what these two doctors described, as "hesitation marks." These hesitation marks, according to the doctors, are frequently present in the case of self-inflicted wounds and their presence is accounted for by the suicide's preliminary effort to determine how and where to inflict the wound. The result thereof is that the edges of the wound are serrated.

In this posture of the proofs, the trial court submitted the case to the jury and it returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

The grounds of appeal are argued under four points. The first is directed to the court's denial of the motion for a directed verdict in favor of the defendant company. Our review of the evidence in this case leaves no doubt but that there was conflicting testimony which presented a jury question and therefore we find no error in the court's action in this regard. It is next asserted that the court erred in permitting the plaintiff, Friede Kirschbaum, over objection, to answer the following question, "do you know of any reason that your husband -- or motive that your husband could have had for killing himself? A. I don't know of any reason." Appellant's objection to this question is that an answer would require the witness to read the mind of the ...


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