Life Insurance – Intentionally Killing Insured

A Texas life insurance lawyer will want to keep this case in his file. It is a 1941, opinion from the Waco Court of Appeals and is styled, National Life & Accident Ins. Co., Inc., et al. v. Thompson.
Velma Thompson instituted this suit for the recovery of $200 and statutory penalties alleged to be due her as beneficiary in a policy of insurance on the life of her husband, Era Thompson. Defendant answered with a plea in abatement on the ground that plaintiff had assigned the policy sued upon to one Braswell, and, subject thereto, with general demurrer and general denial. The brother and sisters of the insured filed their plea of intervention, asserting their right to recover the proceeds due under said policy, by reason of their allegation that plaintiff wilfully brought about the death of her husband. Defendant answered further, alleging that it was unable to determine who was entitled to receive the proceeds due under said policy and that it was paying into the registry of the court the sum of $200 to abide the judgment in the cause, and it prayed that it be dismissed from further liability with its costs.
The case was submitted to a jury on special issues, in response to which they found that plaintiff did not wilfully bring about the death of the insured; that a common-law marriage was in existence between plaintiff and the insured at the time of the latter’s death; and that $100 would be a reasonable attorney’s fee for the legal services rendered in prosecuting plaintiff’s case. Interveners and defendant each presented separate motions for judgment in their favor, respectively, non obstante veredicto. The court rendered judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendant for the sum of $200, with interest and court costs, and that interveners take nothing. Each of the parties filed separate motions for new trial, all of which were overruled, and to which each duly excepted and gave notice of appeal.
Interveners assert as their grounds of complaint that (1) the uncontroverted evidence showed the plaintiff wilfully brought about the death of the insured and (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the finding that plaintiff was the common-law wife of the deceased. The evidence showed that the insured died as the result of stab wounds inflicted upon him by plaintiff, but in our opinion a fact issue was thereby raised as to whether the killing was wilful. The trial court instructed the jury that the word “wilfully” as used in the charge meant “knowingly, intentionally, deliberately or designedly.” No objection was interposed by any of the parties to this definition. Plaintiff testified at great length to a state of facts, which, if true, showed that she was acting in self-defense as the result of a difficulty provoked by the deceased and that she had been so beaten by her husband at the time when she finally resorted to her knife as a means of protecting herself against threatened death, as to be insensible to any motive other than the primal instinct of self-preservation. She was corroborated in many of the details of her testimony by various witnesses.
While the court was thoroughly in accord with the salutary effect of the wise and just rule of the common-law which forfeits any right of recovery to a beneficiary in a life insurance policy who feloniously takes the life of the insured, pursuant to what is today, Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.151, the Court can not hold as a matter of law on the evidence before it that plaintiff wilfully or feloniously brought about the death of the insured within the meaning of the statute or of the common law.
The Court did not think interveners were in any position to assert that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the finding of the jury on the issue of whether plaintiff was the common-law wife of the insured. They did not plead a want of insurable interest on the part of plaintiff as a ground of recovery, but on the contrary they based their rights solely upon their allegation that she had wilfully brought about the death of “her husband.” They made no such contention in their motion for new trial.
The Court carefully reviewed the evidence on this issue. Plaintiff testified, in substance, that she and the insured had been living together as husband and wife since 1931 and that they had always introduced each other to members of the public as husband and wife. Several of the interveners testified that they had visited frequently in the home of their brother and plaintiff; that the deceased and plaintiff were considered by those who knew them to be husband and wife. In the Court’s opinion, the evidence afforded a sufficient basis for the finding of the jury to the effect that the insured and plaintiff had entered into an agreement to become husband and wife and in pursuance thereof had lived together as such, and had held each other out to the public as husband and wife; and this finding established the insurable interest of plaintiff in the life of the insured as his wife and as the designated beneficiary in the policy sued upon.