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New York Appellate Court Discusses Meaning of Personal Injury in Relation to Common Carrier Liability Case

On the trial of the issue joined the jury returned a special finding that in 1862 the insured fell from a tree, was injured, but not seriously, and that its effects passed away without subsequently affecting her health. The fact that the insured had so fallen was not disclosed to the insurer. It was held that the injury described by the evidence and found by the jury was not a serious one, within the meaning of the contract, and that the plaintiff was entitled to recover. In discussing the case, the meaning of the term ‘serious bodily injury,’ when used in life policies, was discussed. The justice, speaking for the supreme court, said: ‘On the first branch of the case, the court said to the jury that if the effects of the fall were temporary and had entirely passed away before the application was taken, and if it did not affect the insured’s health or shorten her life, then the non-disclosure of the fall was no defense to the action. On the other hand, if the effects of the fall were not temporary, and remained when the application was taken, or if the fall affected the general health, or was so serious that it might affect the health or shorten life, then the non-disclosure would defeat recovery, although the failure to mention the fall was not intentional or fraudulent. It is insisted by counsel for the defendant that, if the injury was considered serious at the time, it is one which must be mentioned in reply to the interrogatory, and that whether any further inquiry is expedient on the subject of its permanent influence on the health is for the insurer to determine before making insurance. But there are grave and obvious difficulties in this construction. The accidents resulting in personal injury, which at the moment are considered by the parties serious, are so very numerous that it would be almost impossible for a person engaged in active life to recall them at the age of forty or fifty years; and, if the failure to mention all such injuries must invalidate the policy, very few would be sustained, where thorough inquiry is made into the history of the party whose life is the subject of insurance. There is, besides, the question of what is to be considered a serious injury at the time. If the party gets over the injury completely, without leaving any ill consequences in a few days, it is clear that the serious aspect of the case was not a true one. Is it necessary to state the injury and explain the mistake to meet the requirements of the policy? On the other hand, when the question arises, as in this case, on a trial, the jury, and not the insurer, must decide whether the injury was serious or not. In deciding this are they to reject the evidence of the ultimate effect of the injury on the party’s health, longevity, strength, and other similar considerations? This would be to leave out of view the essential purpose of the inquiry, and the very matters which would throw most light on the nature of the injury, with reference to its influence on the insurable character of the life proposed. Looking, then, to the purpose for which the information is sought by the question, and to the difficulty of answering whether an injury was serious in any other manner than by reference to its permanent or temporary influence on the health, strength, and longevity of the party, we are of opinion that the court did not err in the criterion by which it directed the jury to decide the interrogatory propounded to them.’

The words ‘hurt’ and ‘would,’ as used in the application, mean an injury to the body causing an impairment of health or strength, or rendering the person more liable to contract disease, or less able to resist its effects. No such medical consequences followed from the hurt sustained by the insured. A cut on the face, finger, or on any part of the body from which blood flows, though healing in a few days, and leaving no evil consequences, is a hurt or wound, but not within the meaning of the contract under consideration. There being no evidence tending to sustain the findings upon which the conclusion of law is based, the judgment should be reversed, and a new trial granted, with costs to abide event. All concur.

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