Life Insurance — Suicide Exclusion

A 1982, 14th Court of Appeals opinion recognizes and upholds that life insurance policies typically exclude suicide as an assumed risk of the carrier.  The opinion is styled, Parchman v. United Liberty Life Insurance Co.

In Parchman the policy excluded suicide as an assumed risk for two years from the policy date and provided a reduced benefit of the premiums paid if death resulted from suicide within that period.

As another example, a 1986, Amarillo Court of Appeals opinion styled, Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co. v. Dettle, provided:  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.

When the suicide exclusion is litigated, the court’s definition of “suicide” should include an “intentional” component.  This was stated in the Dettle opinion.

In Dettle the court commented that if the court charged in the policy language (“If the Insured … shall die by his own hand or act whether sane or insane”) and if the policy language were interpreted literally, the insurer could avoid liability even in instances of pure accidents; for example, a pure accidental death at one’s own hand would be excluded by a litteral interpretation of the policy language.

There is a legal presumption against suicide.  The presumption may be rebutted, and then the question is for the jury.  Because suicide is a defense, the insurer has the burden of proof.  This ruling is from a 1988, Beaumont Court of Appeals opinion styled, Massachusetts Indemnity & Life Insurance Co. v. Morrison.

Morrison died in a one-car collision with a tree.  There was evidence that Morrison was depressed, had health problems, and had trouble at work.  A suicide note was found.  On the other hand, there was conflicting evidence on whether the note was in Morrison’s handwriting, and there was expert testimony that it would have been extremely difficult for Morrison to intentionally drive his car into the tree.  The conflicting evidence allowed the jury to find Morrison’s death did not result from suicide.

Suicide provisions in a life insurance policy are addressed in the Texas Insurance Code, Section 1101.055.

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