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U.S. Supreme Court

Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company v. Tisdale, 91 U.S. 238 (1875)

Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company v. Tisdale

91 U.S. 238


In a suit brought by the plaintiff in his individual character, and not as administrator, to recover a debt upon a contract between him and the defendant, where the right of action depends upon the death of a third person, letters of administration upon the estate of such person granted by the proper probate court, in a proceeding to which the defendant was a stranger, afford no legal evidence of such death.

This action was brought in December, 1867, by Mrs. Tisdale, upon a policy of insurance, bearing date March 1, 1866, issued to her upon the life of Edgar Tisdale, her husband. Evidence was given tending to show his death on the 24th of September, 1866. This evidence consisted chiefly in his sudden and mysterious disappearance under circumstances making probable his death by violence. It seems from the charge of the court that evidence was given by the defendant tending to show that he had been seen alive some months after the date of his supposed death. To sustain her case, the plaintiff offered in evidence letters of administration upon his estate, issued to her by the County Court of Dubuque County, Iowa. The chanrobles.com-red

Page 91 U. S. 239

defendant objected to the admission of this evidence. The objection was overruled, and the letters were read in evidence; to which the defendant excepted.

The court charged the jury that

"The real question is whether Edgar Tisdale was dead at the time of issuing the letters of administration. It is incumbent on the plaintiff to prove that fact. She has shown, as evidence of that fact, letters of administration issued to her as administratrix by the probate judge. It is the duty of the court to instruct you that this makes a prima facie case for the plaintiff, and changes the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. . . . Without contradictory evidence, these [the letters of administration] give the plaintiff the right to recover."

To the charge in this respect the defendant excepted.

The defendant prayed the court to instruct the jury, that

"in an action brought by the plaintiff in her own right on a contract between herself and the defendant below, and not in a representative capacity, she must establish by competent testimony the death of the insured, independently of the letters of administration,"

and that

"when the issue in a suit brought upon a policy of life insurance is the death of the insured, letters of administration granted upon his estate are not prima facie evidence of his death, where the suit is not brought by his administrator."

But the court refused to give such instructions, to which the defendant excepted. Judgment was rendered against the defendant, who sued out this writ of error. chanrobles.com-red

Page 91 U. S. 241