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Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Lathrop, 111 U.S. 612 (1884)

Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Lathrop

Argued April 3, 1884

Decided May 5, 1884

111 U.S. 612


The rule reaffirmed that a case should not be withdrawn from the jury unless the testimony be of such a conclusive character as to compel the court,

Page 111 U. S. 613

in the exercise of a sound legal discretion, to set aside a verdict in opposition to it.

Upon an issue in a suit upon a life policy as to the insanity of the insured at the time he took his own life, the opinion of a nonprofessional witness as to his mental condition, in connection with a statement of the facts and circumstances within his personal knowledge upon which that opinion is based, is competent evidence.

This is a writ of error from a judgment in favor of Helen Pitkin, the beneficiary in two policies issued by the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company upon the life of her husband -- one, on the 10th day of August, 1866, for the sum of $5,000 and the other on the 24th day of September, 1873, for the sum of $423. The insured, George E. Pitkin, died on the 29th day of September, 1878. After the case came here, the beneficiary in the policies died, and there was a revivor against her personal representative.

The defense was the same as to each policy. Briefly stated, it is this, that the policy expressly provides that in case the insured shall, after its execution, become so far intemperate as to impair his health, or induce delirium tremens, or should die by his own hand, it shall be void and of no effect; that after its execution and delivery, he did become so far intemperate as to impair his health and induce delirium tremens; also that he died by his own hand because, with premeditation and deliberation, he shot himself through the heart with a bullet discharged by himself from a pistol, by reason whereof he died. Further, that the affirmative answer by plaintiff, in her application for insurance, to the question whether the insured was then and had always been of temperate habits, being false and untrue, the contract was annulled because, by its terms, the policy was to become void if the statements and representations in the application -- constituting the basis of the contract between the parties -- were not in all respects true and correct.

The plaintiff, in her reply, put in issue all the material allegations of the answer, except that alleging the self-destruction of her husband, as to which she averred that "at the time he committed said act of self-destruction, and with reference thereto," he "was not in possession of his mental faculties, and was not responsible for said act."

Page 111 U. S. 614

On the trial, the plaintiff offered in evidence the opinions of nonprofessional witnesses who were not experts as to the condition of Pitkin's mind at the time when he killed himself, whether he was sane or insane. This evidence was admitted and excepted to. At the close of the plaintiff's evidence, the defendant's counsel moved to instruct the jury to return a verdict for the defendant, by counsel. That was refused, and the refusal excepted to. A verdict was returned for plaintiff. The defendant sued out this writ of error.

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