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Prudential Ins. Co. of America v. Gutowski

Supreme Court of Delaware

May 3, 1955

The PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, a New Jersey corporation, Appellant,
v.
Joseph F. GUTOWSKI, Appellee.

Action to recover on life policies. The Superior Court, New Castle County, rendered judgment for plaintiff and defendant appealed. The Supreme Court, Southerland, C. J., held, inter alia, that where insured had died as a result of overdose of barbiturates, evidence whether death had been by accidental means, within double indemnity policy coverage, as distinguished from an accidental death, was sufficient to take case to jury.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded with instructions.

In action to recover under double indemnity clauses of life policies for death of insured, who died as a result of overdose of barbiturates, evidence whether death had been by accidental means, within policy coverage, as distinguished from an accidental death, was insufficient to take case to jury.

Page 580

John P. Sinclair, of Berl, Potter & Anderson, Wilmington, for appellant.

H. James Conaway, Jr., of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams, Wilmington, for appellee.

SOUTHERLAND, C. J., and WOLCOTT and BRAMHALL, JJ., sitting.

SOUTHERLAND, Chief Justice.

This is a suit at law upon four policies of life insurance issued by appellant upon the life of Anna S. Gutowski. The two principal issues, differing in respect of both facts and law, are as follows:

I. Are false statements by an applicant for life insurance, relating to prior hospitalization for mental illness and to treatment for chronic alcoholism, misrepresentations material to the risk?

II. Was there any evidence to support the verdict that death of the insured from

Page 581

an overdose of barbiturates was caused by ‘ accidental means'?

The trial court submitted both these questions to the jury. The jury found for the plaintiff. Defendant's motion to set aside the verdict and enter judgment for the defendant was denied, and defendant appeals.

I.

The first question concerns only the fourth and last of the policies, in the sum of $500. On August 28, 1950, when the policy was issued, Anna S. Gutowski, forty-two years of age, was a married woman living with her husband. The policy was issued, without medical examination, on the basis of an application signed by Mrs. Gutowski. The application form contained the following questions:

‘ 19. Has person proposed consulted or been treated by a doctor or other practitioner or at a dispensary or clinic within past 3 years?

‘ 20. Has person proposed had any injury, illness or operation within past 10 years?

‘ 21. Has person proposed ever been confined to a hospital or sanitarium for any reason?'

[49 Del. 236] ‘ 22. Has person proposed ever had:

insanity * * *.'

The answer to each of these questions was ‘ No’ . In fact, the applicant had a history of serious illness and hospitalization. On July 28, 1933 she was admitted to the Delaware State Hospital. Her condition was diagnosed as ‘ phychoneurosis, anxiety type’ . She remained in the hospital until April 7, 1934 except for a period of two months spent at home in the late fall of 1933. She was readmitted to the same hospital on September 15, 1934 and her illness diagnosed as ‘ alcoholic psychosis, delirium tremens'. She had hallucinatory experiences during the first week in the hospital. She was discharged on July 31, 1938, having spent (allowing for times during which she was paroled) about twenty months in the hospital. She was readmitted February 21, 1946, the diagnosis being-‘ without psychosis acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism and a maladjusted individual.’ She was discharged June 29, 1948. Prior to August, 1950 she had been treated by two physicians for chronic alcoholism and delirium tremens.

Mrs. Gutowski was found dead on the morning of March 7, 1951 from an overdose of barbiturates, under circumstances hereafter more fully discussed. The company denied liability on the policy and suit was brought. At the trial the defendant proved the facts of ...


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