Insurance Company Responsibility For Adjuster

When an adjuster in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Fort Worth, Burleson, Crowley, Lake Worth, Grandview, Benbrook, Britton, Joshua, or anywhere else in Texas commits a wrong, can the insurance company be held responsible?
That question was answered in 1936, by the Beaumont Court of Appeals in the case, Love et al. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. et al. Here are some facts in the case.
Tom Love, Victoria Houston, and Cora Davis were a brother and sisters of Orange Love, deceased. They brought this lawsuit to recover damages for the mutilation and unlawful dissection and autopsy performed without there knowledge or consent in and upon the dead body of their brother, Orange Love.
When Orange Love died, his sister Cora Davis sent his body to Carter & Sutton, undertakers, for burial. While the body was in the possession and charge of Carter & Sutton, it was taken possession of by Drs. Goodson and Stout and an autopsy was performed upon the corpse in which the body was thoroughly explored by opening same and taking out the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, and bowels, and these were cut into, portions denuded therefrom and never returned, but carried off for chemical investigation. All this without the permission of his relatives, and without their knowledge and consent. After learning of he autopsy, the body was buried and this suit followed.
Prior to his death, Orange Love had been an employee of and worked for the San Antonio Compress Company, which carried compensation insurance covering its employees with Aetna Insurance Company. Love had complained that he had suffered an injury to his abdomen while handling a bale of cotton, and had made claim to the compensation board for compensation under the insurance carried by Aetna. Pending his claim before the board, he died. His relatives continued the claim. Aetna filed notice of denial of the claim and filed with the board a copy of the report on the autopsy held on the body of Love.
C. E. Klein, with an office in San Antonio, was the claim adjuster for Aetna, and received and handled the claim of Love for compensation because of his alleged injury. Klein, as the claim adjuster, went to the local Justice of the Peace to get the authority to conduct the autopsy.
Klein testified to the actions he took in investigating the claim of Love. He testified that he was taking his actions in the course of his work. That he gave the Judge the information needed to sign off on the autopsy. He arranged for payment of the bills for the autopsy by Aetna.
In this appeal, Aetna insisted that if the autopsy was illegally performed, that Klein was operating outside his scope of authority, was not within his scope of employment, and had neither express or implied authority to seek a wrongful autopsy.
Further testimony by Klein revealed that he had complete authority to make complete settlements in a case. That he was in charge of the Adjustment Department, and that his adjustments are final, unless they were submitted to the Home Office. He also testified that Aetna gave him no instructions in this case.
At the trial court level, the trial Judge allowed Aetna to get out of the case. This appeals court said that was wrong and reversed that opinion and put Aetna back in the case and remanded this case to the trial court for further disposition with Aetna.
In its ruling the court stated, “We think it plainly appears that Klein in procuring the autopsy was acting as the fully authorized agent of [Aetna], within the scope of his employment, and in the exercise of his discretion given him in the investigation of and approval or rejection of claims against his company. But if not, still [Aetna] is liable because after the autopsy was had, it approved Klein’s acts and paid the doctors for their services in performing the autopsy, and accepted the benefits of same by receiving the report of the autopsy from the doctors and filing a copy of same with the Industrial Accident Board where the claim for compensation for the death of Orange Love was then pending, and which was later refused.”
In this case, the autopsy had been illegally obtained and Aetna tried to distance itself from the illegal acts of their adjuster. They were unsuccessful. It is vital to get with an experienced Insurance Law Attorney when an adjuster does an act in investigating a claim that is illegal or improper.