This subject assumes in life policies an unusual importance. The application must be made as in fire policies, by a written document, in which very many questions are put, all of which*must be answered; and these questions are numerous, minute, and very wide in their scope. These answers in general, if not always, are so a part of the contract as to be, in law, warranties; but they may be made, according to the form of the answer, warranties of a fact, or warranties of the belief of the answer. If the answers are a simple affirmative or negative of the questions, they are warranties of the fact stated by taking the question and answer together. As for example, if the question be, Have you ever had apoplexy? and the answer is, No, this is a warranty that the party had never had this disease. But if the answer were, "Not that I know of," or "Not to the best of my belief and knowledge," this would limit the warranty to the belief of the answer, and proof that this disease had existed would not of itself establish a breach of the warranty. It need not be said, that it would be generally proper, and always more safe, to answer in this manner; and answers of this kind would, for the most part, be all that the insurers should require. (a) It is, however, probable, that if the answer were of this kind, and the fact inquired about were proved, the burden would be cast upon the plaintiff to discharge the answerer from the knowledge or belief of it. This might depend on the nature of the fact, as it is obvious, that some of those inquired about could hardly have happened without the knowledge of the answerer; while others might probably be unknown to him.
From the fact that the insurers frame these questions as they please, and that they do in fact ask a vast variety of questions, embracing all the possibilities which could affect the risk, including some which it might be thought would affect it very remotely, courts and juries usually, and we think properly, construe these questions and answers quite liberally in favor of the answerer, and strictly against the insurers, unless there be a reasonable suspicion of fraud.1
The good faith of the answers should be perfect. (b) The presence of it goes very far to protect a policy, (c) while the want of it would be an element of great power in the defence. * We have called all the answers warranties, and we know not how they can be called less, under any definition of the law. It is certain, however, that the question of materiality is generally applied to them, and, when wholly immaterial, a breach is seldom permitted to discharge the insurers, as the cases are usually determined. And, as was said in reference to policies against fire, the question of materiality is, generally, submitted to the jury; but they will not be permitted to find or to regard diseases or infirmities as immaterial, which the contract regards as material. (cc) l
(a) See Stackpole v. Simon, Park, Ins. (8th ed.) 932.
(b) Valton v. National Ins. Co. 20 N. Y. 32.
(c) See infra, note (g).
1 See N. J. Ins. Co. v. Baker, 94 U. S. 610; Miller v. Mut. Ben. Ins. Co., 31 Ia. 216.
It has been said, however, that when the policy expressly declares, as most of our life policies now do, that the policy is made upon the statements in the application for insurance, and that if they are in any particular untrue the policy shall be void, this gives to the statements the full force of warranties; and if they are untrue, the policy is thereby avoided, however immaterial the fact. (d) 2 The burden of proving material falsehood of representations is on the insurers. (dd)
One warranty or statement is usually made expressly a part of all life policies. It is, that the life-insured is then in good health. (e) This applies to the mind as well as the body; and if insanity be known and concealed, the policy would be avoided. (f) But in one case where the life-insured was then insane, but was wholly unconscious of it, the policy was held to be valid, although two physicians were then in attendance upon him, and knew him to be insane. (g)
The health of the body required to make the policy attach, does
(ee) Campbell v. New England Ins. Co. 98 Mass. 381.
(d) Miles v. Conn. Ins. Co. 3 Gray, 580; Cazenove v. British Asso. Co. 6 C. B. 437.
(dd) Campbell v. New England Ins. Co. 98 Mass. 381.
(e) Where a policy, which had been forfeited by non-payment of the annual premium, was renewed on the condition that the life-assured was "now in good health," it was held, that the same meaning was to be attached to these terms as in the original application, and that the effect was to extend the original representations with the same effect as if made at the time of renewal. Peacock v. N. Y. Ins. Co. 20 N. Y. S93.
(f) Lindenau v. Desboroogh, 8 B. & C. 586, 3 Car. & P. 353.
(g) Swete v. Fairlie, 6 Car. & P. 1.
1 See Moulor v. Am. Life Ins. Co. 101 U. S. 708; World Ins. Co. v. Schultz, 73 Ill. 586; Conover v. Mass. Life Ins. Co. 8 Dillon, 217; Mut. Ben. Ins. Co. v. Wise, 34 Md. 582; Gerhauser v. No. Brit Ins. Co. 6 Nev. 15.
2 Powers v. North Eastern Ass. 50 Vt. 630. Contra, American Ins. Co. v. Day, 10 Vroom, 89. In Macdonald v. Law Union Ins. Co. L. R. 9 Q. B. 328, where the policy contained a proviso that if the declaration signed by the assured, on the basis of which the insurance was effected, was "not in every respect true," "then the insurance shall be void," it was held that the insurance was avoided if any statement in the declaration was untrue in fact, although not to the knowledge of the assured; and so where false answers were fraudulently inserted without the assured's knowledge by the agent. McCoy v. Metropolitan Ins. Co. 133 Mass. 82. That equivocation has the force of falsehood, see Smith v. AEtna Ins. Co. 49 N. Y. 211.
not mean perfect and absolute health; for it may be supposed that this is seldom to be found among men. "We are all born," said Lord Mansfield, "with the seeds of mortality in us." (h) Nor can there be any other definition or rule as to this requirement of good health, than that it should mean that which would ordinarily and reasonably be regarded as good health. (i) 1 Nor should we be helped by saying that this good * health must exclude all disorders, or infirmities, which might possibly shorten life; for, as has been well said in an instructive English case, that may be said of every disorder or infirmity. (j) 2 But it must obviously be very difficult to determine questions like these by any general rule. And it is the usual practice of courts to leave these questions to the jury; and it may be added, that it is the usual practice of jurors to be very lenient toward the insured, provided there is no evidence of fraud.