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Important Decisions., Issue 8038, 15 October 1889
Two very important cases of much interest to the public at large havo recently been decided by the English Court of Appeal. One action was brought by the lepresentatives of a farmer against the Accident Insurance Company, to recover, under a policy which he had taken out, insuring him against "personal injury caused by accidental and external violence, and occasioning his death within three months from tho date of the injury." The policy contained an exception in the case of death happening "by injuries received in the exposure of the insured to obvious risk or injury." The jury found that in crossing from one side of a railway which ran through his own property to the other in tho course of his farmwork, the insured lost his life by_ incurring obvious risk, and added that in their opinion it was an ordinary misadventure, and a verdict was given for the company. The plaintiffs appealed, and the appeal was dismissed.
The other case was brought against the same company to recover under a similar policy, which contained the following proviso:—That the insurance should not extend to " death by suicide, whether felonious or otherwise, or to any injury caused by, or arising from, natural disease or weakness or exhaustion consequent upon disease, or by any medical >r surgical treatment or operation rendered necessary by disease, or to any death arising from disease, although bucli death may have been accelerated by accident, or to any death or injury caused by duelling or fighting or any other breach of the law on the part of the insured, or by poison or intentional self-injury, or by war or invasion, civil or popular riot or assault, or to any death or injury happening while the insured is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or in a state of insanity, temporary or otherwise, or occasioned to be injured by his travelling by railway in a different carriage from those provided for the conveyance of passengers, or by his entering or leaving a carriage of a train in motion, or attempting so to do. or otherwise by his action in violation of the by-laws of any railway company, or whilst riding races or steeplechases, or generally by his voluntarily exposing himself to any unnecessary danger or peril." The insured took poison in mistake for medicine, and died immediately. The jury found for the company, . and the plaintiffs appealed, holding that the poison was taken by accident. The appeal was also dismissed. The Court was composed of the same Judges in both instances, and they were unanimous ; but in delivering judgment in the latter ease the Master of the Rolls felt compelled to express himself very strongly in regard to the character of some accident policies. Premising that he spoke for himself only, although one of his brother Judges concurred, he went on to say that "he had a prejudice against this policy (the one insuring the person who died from the accidental poisoning), and it was an honest, right, and judicial prejudice. I When he saw a policy which ordinary people I thought would insure them against accident, and when he saw that the policy was drawn in such terms that it would not insure them in almost every kind of accident, it was a policy not to be praised, and people should be warned against insuring under policies in that form. The policy was one th'wt might deceive persons of ordinary intelligence. They must, however, construe the policy according to the terms in it. The insured met his death by as pure an accident as could be conceived. The company took the objection that death was caused by poison. In that contention the company must succeed. . . . Though the poison was
taken by the merest accident, the exception in the proviso would apply." The 'Economist,' commenting on the above, says:—"Of course, in limiting the risks to be covered by their policies the accident companies have no desire to take any unfair advantage of those insuring with them. Their one object is to so restrict the risks undertaken that tbey may be able to insure cheaply. But policies so limited, and hedged round with exceptions as many of them are, really afford so little protection that if people only knew exactly what they were paying for, they would never dream of insuring at all. Probably not one person out of a hundred who insures makes himself fully aware of the character of the contract into which he is entering. The others do not study their policies, and note how numerous are the exceptions which effectually bar any claim. They have simply a vague and egregiously mistaken idea that they are protected against all pure accidents. That idea, however, will not continue to prevail if attention is directed to the matter by a recurrence of decisions such as those to which we have referred, and the companies would do well to take timely action and do away with many of the exceptions by which j the value of their policies is at present so grievously impaired."
Important Decisions., Issue 8038, 15 October 1889
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