Life Insurance Attorney – Suicide

Dallas life insurance attorneys need to read and know this 1986, Amarillo Court of Appeals case. It is styled, Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co v. Dettle. Here is some relevant information:
Southern Farm is appealing from a trial court finding in favor or Dettle. The controversy arose from the Southern Farm’s failure to pay death benefits on a policy insuring the life of Douglas Dee Dettle. The deceased-insured was found dead in his apartment. He died as the result of a single shotgun wound to his lower abdomen and genital area. Southern Farm defended on a suicide exclusion in the policy. In response to special issues, the jury determined that the deceased’s death was not a suicide.
Southern Farm argued “the trial court’s definition of the term ‘suicide’ erroneously included the element of intent, thereby placing upon Southern Farm a greater burden of proof than that required under either its contractual language or Texas law.”
In pertinent part, the policy in question provides:
Suicide. If the Insured within two years from the date of issue of this policy shall die by his own hand or act whether sane or insane, the liability of the Company shall be limited to an amount equal to the premiums actually paid, without interest.
In submitting the case to the jury, the trial court inquired:
Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the death of the decedent, Douglas D. Dettle, was a suicide?
In conjunction with that issue, the trial court gave the following definition:
“Suicide” means the intentional taking of one’s own life, by his own hand or act, whether sane or insane.
In its objections to the court’s charge, Southern Farm stated: “First, the instruction [i.e., definition of suicide] as stated with the word “intentional” in it, misstates the definition of suicide in the insurance policy upon which suit is brought, and as such placed a greater burden on the defendant than should be required under that insurance policy.” Thus, if the word “intentional” is omitted from the definition as Southern Farm asserts, the definition would read: ” ‘Suicide’ means the taking of one’s own life, by his own hand or act, whether sane or insane.” In that regard, they cite to no Texas case where its asserted definition or a similar definition has been approved or suggested by the court, nor did this court find such a case.
Southern Farm, in essence, contends that the court should give a literal interpretation to the language of the policy (i.e., “shall die at his own hand or act whether sane or insane”). In that regard, the court pointed out that an overwhelming majority of the American courts have refused to give a literal interpretation of the policy language in question and other similar language.
Although the word “suicide” connotes an intention to kill oneself, and the various phrases frequently employed in place thereof–“die by his own hand or act,” “self-destruction,” and the like–do not literally import such an intention, yet the courts frequently declare that these substituted phrases are equivalent to “suicide,” and very few of the cases base any distinction upon their use in place of that word. Indeed, it is apparent that these phrases cannot be given their full, literal significance consistently with the intention not to relieve the insurer in case of pure accident.
In this instance, as in most cases where the defense is suicide, the primary issue is whether the death is a suicide, accident, or an accident or homicide at the hand of an unknown third party. Consequently, if the policy language is given a literal interpretation and the court charges in the policy language, the insurer can avoid liability even in those instances of pure accidents (i.e., a pure accidental death at one’s own hand is excluded by a literal interpretation of the policy language).
Here, the court essentially found in favor of coverage and ruled against Southern Farm. Any time an insurance company denies coverage based on a suicide exclusion in the policy, see an experienced .