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U.S. Supreme Court

Knights Templars Indem. Co. v. Jarman, 187 U.S. 197 (1902)

Knights Templars & Masons' Life Indemnity Company v. Jarman

No. 48

Argued October 17, 1902

Decided December 8, 1902

187 U.S. 197


1. That section of the Revised Statutes of Missouri declaring that, in all suits upon policies of life insurance, it shall be no defense that the insured committed suicide, applies not only to cases where the insured takes his own life voluntarily and in full possession of his mental faculties, but to all cases of self-destruction by the insured, whether sane or insane, unless he contemplated suicide at the time he made his application for the policy. chanrobles.com-red

Page 187 U. S. 198

The fact that this Court has held that a clause avoiding a policy in case the insured should die by his own hand applied only where the insured intentionally took his own life while sane, does not estop the court from giving a different construction to a statute embodying an important question of public policy.

2. While, under the decisions of the Supreme Court of Missouri, it must be held that the above statute was repealed by the act of 1887, authorizing the incorporation of insurance companies on the assessment plan, as to policies thereafter issued, this statute of 1887 was prospective in its operation, and with respect to policies issued anterior to the date of that act, the rights of the parties are to be determined by the suicide statute.

It was further held that a law passed in 1897, specially applying the suicide statute to insurance companies doing business upon the assessment plan, was constitutional, and applied to this policy, inasmuch as the insured did not die until 1898.

3. The promise of the company to pay the plaintiff the sum of $3,000 and all the money paid on the policy in assessments, was not impaired by subsequent amendments to the constitution, inasmuch as these amendments operated only upon policies thereafter issued.

This was a writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the circuit court of appeals affirming a judgment of the Circuit Court for the Western District of Missouri, overruling the defense of suicide to an action upon a policy of life insurance, and awarding plaintiff judgment for the amount of the policy and assessments thereon.

An agreed statement of facts shows defendant to be an Illinois corporation, organized "for the purpose of furnishing life indemnity or pecuniary benefits to widows," etc., and that, on October 19, 1885, it issued to John P. Jarman, plaintiff's husband, and a citizen of Missouri, a policy of insurance or certificate of membership, subject to the constitution and bylaws of the company and certain conditions in the policy, one of which provided for its avoidance in case of self-destruction, "whether voluntary or involuntary, sane or insane." The seventh stipulation was that

"John P. Jarman, while insane to such an extent as to be incapable of understanding the nature or consequences of his act, took his own life, and came to his death on the 12th day of September, 1898, by a gunshot wound, inflicted by himself. It is not contended, however, by plaintiff that such self-destruction was the result of accident."

The further material facts are set forth in the opinion. chanrobles.com-red

Page 187 U. S. 199

Defendant having refused to pay the amount of the policy on account of the suicide of the insured, Rosa B. Jarman, his widow and beneficiary, brought an action January 19, 1899, in the Circuit Court of Grundy County to recover the amount of the policy, $5,000, and assessments, which action was subsequently removed to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Missouri upon the ground of diversity of citizenship. The case was submitted to the court without the intervention of a jury, and resulted in a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the sum of $6,006.30, which was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. Whereupon petitioner sued out a writ of certiorari from this Court.


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