Willful Killing Of The Insured

Life Insurance lawyers in Fort Worth need to read this Fort Worth Court of Appeals opinion from 1969. The case is styled, Giles et al. v Wiggins et al. The court discusses the required evidence necessary to invoke the “slayer statute” which is today found in the Texas Insurance Code, Section 110.151.
This suit involves ascertainment of the rightful claimant to the proceeds of a life insurance policy issued by National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The latter, as stakeholder, filed the suit and deposited $8,009.11 into the registry of the court for disposition by it to the claimants entitled thereto.
Vergia L. Giles, insured, was shot by his wife, Evelyn Jean Wiggins, nee Evelyn Jean Giles, and primary beneficiary of the policy, on September 4, 1966. He died as result thereof on September 14, 1966.
The case was tried to the court without a jury. The court, contrary to the claims of the decedent’s next of kin found that the beneficiary at the time of the shooting was acting in self-defense and because thereof did not willfully bring about the death of the insured and therefore was entitled to the proceeds of the policy.
On appeal the Giles contends that the evidence was insufficient to support the judgment because it (the evidence) conclusively showed that the conduct of Wiggins in killing her husband was willful and therefore Giles, as next of kin, was entitled to judgment. This Court agreed with the trial Judge.
Pursuant to Texas Insurance Code the interest of the beneficiary under a policy of insurance is eliminated or cancelled in favor of ‘the nearest relative of the insured’ in a situation where the beneficiary ‘willfully’ brings about the death of the insured.
The Texas Supreme Court rule in this issue involved a case in which an insured was killed by his wife. The rule announced there was that where the beneficiary intends to kill the insured and the killing is illegal, the beneficiary loses his or her rights under the policy. Conversely where the beneficiary intends to kill the insured and the killing is legal, the beneficiary does not lose his or her rights under the policy. “Willfully” connotes something more than that the beneficiary shall have intended the death of the insured to result from his or her act. Obviously the factor of illegality must also be present. The court has previously held that the word ‘willfully’ did not mean ‘maliciously.’
Giles concedes that, ‘If the killing is done in justifiable self-defense, it is not willful.’ They argue that it was unreasonable for Wiggins to believe that she would suffer death or serious bodily injury at the hands of her husband on the occasion in question because he had attacked her many times before and while he had inflicted injury had never killed her in the previous attacks .
In the instant case no specific findings of fact were requested and none were filed. A statement of facts was brought forward. It consists of 275 pages of recorded testimony of numerous witnesses and a third volume of exhibits. Under such circumstances it is presumed upon appeal that the trial judge found every issue of fact necessary to sustain the judgment when such fact issue is raised by the pleadings and finds support in the evidence. This court is compelled to affirm the court’s judgment if it can be sustained on any reasonable theory supported by evidence and authorized by law. Giles thus bears the burden of showing that the undisputed facts negative one or more of the elements essential to support the judgment. This is a difficult burden to discharge. Giles has failed in this regard.
The trial judge in this case was the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Needless to say in a case of this type the issues were vigorously contested. There was evidence pro and con. Certainly the evidence was not consistent. It varied with considerable degree. There was evidence both ways on the issue of ‘self-defense.’ There was evidence in support of the court’s finding of ‘self-defense’ and evidence which would have supported a finding to the contrary. It is not the province of this court, under the record of this case, to hold that the court erred in rejecting the contentions of Giles and in holding as it did.
In view of what the court has said to this point, this court sees no useful purpose in reciting a blow by blow account of the sordid details of this case. Suffice it to say that all of the elements of self-defense on the part of Wiggins were in the record and fully supported the judgment of the trial court.