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Stanbery v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.

Decided: June 29, 1953.

SHIRLEY V. STANBERY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT



Leyden, J.s.c.

Leyden

This action, to recover double indemnity benefits under a policy of life insurance, was submitted to the court for determination on an agreed stipulation of facts.

On October 24, 1936 plaintiff's decedent, William H. Stanbery, then a clerk employed in the ticket office and baggage room of the L. & N.R.R. Depot, Etowah, Tennessee, entered into a life insurance contract with the Aetna Life Insurance Company, in the face amount of $1,000 for an annual premium of $23.37. The beneficiaries originally named were the parents of the insured. Subsequently Stanbery substituted his wife, Shirley V. Stanbery, the plaintiff, as the beneficiary.

In consideration of an additional annual premium of 77 cents, defendant further agreed:

"If the death of the insured occurs before default in payment of premium and before the first anniversary of the date of this policy which follows the sixty-fifth anniversary of the insured's birth, and if such death results directly and independently of all other causes from bodily injuries effected solely through external, violent and accidental means and occurs within ninety days from the date of such accident, and if such injuries are evidenced by a visible contusion or wound on the exterior of the body (except in the case of drowning and internal injuries revealed by an autopsy), and if such death does not result from suicide while sane or insane, from military or naval service in time of war, from an aeronautic flight or submarine descent, from the taking of poison or inhaling of gas whether voluntary or otherwise, nor directly or indirectly from disease in any form, then the Company will immediately pay a sum equal to the sum described in this policy as the sum insured in addition to the insurance under this policy.

The Company shall have the right and opportunity to investigate the circumstances of death, to examine the body and, if not prohibited by law, to make an autopsy."

After the issuance of said policy the insured entered the military service of the United States. On March 27, 1952, while serving as a captain in the United States Army in Korea, he was accidentally killed by a mine explosion while on reconnaissance for a company camp site.

Upon being notified of his death in Korea plaintiff made application for payment under said policy. The defendant paid her the sum of $1,001.36, being the face amount of the policy, with interest. Plaintiff made demand for further payment under the double indemnity provision, which demand defendant refused on the ground that insured's death resulted from military service in time of war within the intent and meaning of the exclusions contained in said provision. Hence this action, wherein the plaintiff seeks as damages the sum of $1,000, with interest from the 27th day of March 1952.

The interpretation of the so-called "war clauses" has given rise to much litigation both within and without our State. The cases construing these clauses in life insurance policies seem to fall into two categories: (1) "result clauses," which exclude from coverage death which results from military service in time of war; and (2) "status clauses," which exclude from coverage death from all causes while in military service in time of war. With this distinction we are not concerned as it is admitted that Stanbery's death resulted from military service. The question for determination is whether Stanbery died "in time of war" within the intent and meaning of the contracting parties as expressed in the insurance policy.

Some of our sister states hold to the view that insurance policies are sui generis , and the principles of law applicable to the interpretation of ordinary contracts do not apply. Our courts have consistently refused to adopt this view.

A policy of insurance is simply a contract, and its provisions should be interpreted as in any ...


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