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U.S. Supreme Court

Northern Assur. Co. v. Grand View Building Assn., 183 U.S. 308 (1902)

Northern Assurance Company v. Grand View Building Association

No. 80

Argued October 28, 1901

Decided January 6, 1902

183 U.S. 308


Overinsurance by concurrent policies on the same property tends to cause carelessness and fraud, and a clause in a policy rendering it void in case other insurance had been or should be made upon the property and not consented to by the insurer is customary and reasonable.

In this case, such a provision was expressly and in unambiguous terms contained in the policy sued on, and it was shown in the proofs of loss furnished by the insured, and it was found by the jury, that there was a policy in another company outstanding when the one sued upon in this case was issued, and hence the question in this case is reduced to one of waiver.

It is a fundamental rule in courts both of law and equity that parol contemporaneous evidence is inadmissible to contradict or vary the terms of a valid written instrument unless in cases where the contracts are vitiated by fraud or mutual mistake.

Where a policy provides that notice shall be given of any prior or subsequent insurance, otherwise the policy to be void, such a provision is reasonable, and constitutes a condition, the breach of which will avoid the policy.

Where the policy provides that notice of prior or subsequent insurance must be given by endorsement upon the policy or by other writing, such provision is reasonable, and one competent for the parties to agree upon, and constitutes a condition the breach of which will avoid the policy.

Contracts in writing, if in unambiguous terms, must be permitted to speak for themselves, and cannot, by the courts at the instance of one of the parties, be altered or contradicted by parol evidence unless in case of fraud or mutual mistake of facts, and this principle is applicable to cases of insurance contracts.

Provisions contained in fire insurance policies that such a policy shall be void and of no effect if other insurance is placed on the property in other companies without the knowledge and consent of the insuring company are usual and reasonable.

It is reasonable and competent for the parties to agree that such knowledge and consent shall be manifested in writing, either by endorsement upon the policy or by other writing.

It is competent and reasonable for insurance companies to make it matter of condition in their policies that their agents shall not be deemed to have chanrobles.com-red

Page 183 U. S. 309

authority to alter or contradict the express terms of the policies as executed and delivered.

Where fire insurance policies contain provisions whereby agents may, by writing endorsed upon the policy or by writing attached thereto, express the company's assent to other insurance, such limited grant of authority is the measure of the agent's power.

Where such limitation is expressed in the policy, the assured is presumed to be aware of such limitation.

Insurance companies may waive forfeiture caused by nonobservance of such conditions.

Where waiver is relied upon, the plaintiff must show that the company, with knowledge of the facts that occasioned the forfeiture, dispensed with the observance of the condition.

Where the waiver relied on is the act of an agent, it must be shown either that the agent had express authority from the company to make the waiver or that the company subsequently, with knowledge of the facts, ratified the action of the agent.

In September, 1898, the Grand View Building Association, a corporation organized under the laws of Nebraska, in the District Court of Lancaster County of that state, brought an action against the Northern Assurance Company of London, incorporated under the laws of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, seeking to recover the sum of $2,500 as due under the terms of a policy of insurance that had been issued by the assurance company to the plaintiff company on December 31, 1896, on certain property situated in said Lancaster County, and which, on June 1, 1898, had been destroyed by fire.

Thereupon the defendant company filed in the said county court a petition and bond, in due form, and prayed for an order removing the cause to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Nebraska, and on September 29, 1898, the county court approved the bond and entered an order granting the prayer of the petition for removal.

Subsequently the case was put at issue on the petition, answer, and reply in the circuit court of the United States, and was so proceeded in that, on October 20, 1898, a special verdict was found by the jury empaneled in the case, and on January 14, 1899, a final judgment was entered for the plaintiff and against the defendant company in the sum of $2,500, with interest and costs. The cause was then taken to the United States Circuit chanrobles.com-red

Page 183 U. S. 310

Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and that court, on March 26, 1900, affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. 101 F. 77. Thereafter, on petition of the defendant company, a writ of certiorari was allowed, in response to which the record and proceedings in the cause were brought to this Court.


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