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Grotefend v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Decided: May 29, 1953.

EMIL H. GROTEFEND, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN HANCOCK MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, AN INSURANCE CORPORATION OF MASSACHUSETTS. AUTHORIZED TO DO BUSINESS IN NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Eastwood, Bigelow and Jayne. The opinion of the court was delivered by Eastwood, S.j.a.d.

Eastwood

In this appeal, the determinative question is whether the plaintiff is entitled to the payment of disability benefits under four policies issued by the defendant company (hereinafter referred to as the "insurance company"), upon his life.

The facts are not in dispute. The plaintiff was totally disabled as a result of an eye infection and operation, during the months of October, November, December, 1948, and January 1949. On February 5, 1949 he returned to work and resumed his employment. Thereafter, under date of May 31, 1949, he filed his claim for disability benefits and, upon denial of his claim, instituted suit in the Bergen County District Court for recovery thereof. Judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $800, for the claimed period, from which judgment the insurance company appeals.

The supplementary contract endorsed upon the policies is entitled "SUPPLEMENTARY CONTRACT -- PROVISION FOR BENEFIT IN THE EVENT OF TOTAL AND PERMANENT DISABILITY PRIOR TO THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE POLICY NEAREST THE SIXTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY OF THE INSURED WAIVER OF PREMIUMS AND LIFE INCOME TO INSURED," the pertinent provisions of which read as follows:

"If, after the payment of the initial premium under this contract and under the policy, and before default in the payment of any subsequent premium, and during the continuance of the policy in full force, due proof shall be presented during the lifetime of the Insured that prior to the anniversary of the policy nearest his sixty-fifth birthday the Insured:

A. Has become totally and permanently disabled either physically or mentally so as to be continuously and wholly prevented for life, from engaging in any occupation or employment for wage or profit, or

B. In the absence of conclusive proof of permanency of disability, if due proof as aforesaid, shall be presented that the Insured has been totally disabled by bodily injuries or disease, and has been thereby prevented from engaging in any occupation or employment for wage or profit for a period of not less than ninety consecutive days,

the Company will grant the following benefits:

1. Waive the payment of further premiums due after the commencement of such disability, and

2. Pay to the Insured, or to the beneficiary if disability results from insanity, with the written consent of the assignee, if any, for each completed month from the commencement of disability and throughout its continuance, a sum equal to one per centum of the face amount of the policy exclusive of any policy additions."

The function of the court is not to make contracts, but to enforce them and to give effect to the intention of the parties. Corn Exchange Nat. Bank & Trust Co., Phila., v. Taubel , 113 N.J.L. 605, 608 (E. & A. 1934); Basic Iron Ore Co. v. Dahlke , 103 N.J.L. 635, 638 (E. & A. 1927); Steelman v. Camden Trust Co. , 22 N.J. Misc. 384, 386 (Sup. Ct. 1944); Verhagen v. Platt , 1 N.J. 85, 88 (1948). The generally accepted rule of construction is that where in written instruments the words or other ...


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