Lusitania, Insurance, War Risk Exclusion – Part V

Michael Sean Quinn*
(*See more below)
            The sinking of the Lusitania produced a number of legal actions. This series of blogs discusses some of them, principally ones related to insurance problems and several in the same ball-park as insurance, sort of: to wit, probate related cases, more or less. The case described here is one from the highest court in New York State, and it involves the sinking of the Lusitania, life insurance, and a probate problem.
            The case is McGowin v. Menken, 119 N.E. 877 (N.Y. 877). In it a married couple, the Tassons (“H” and “W”),  perished in the sinking of the Lusitania. At that time, H had three life insurance policies each to be paid to W, if living, but if not then to his executors, administrators, or assigns. The life insurer paid the money into the court since was not sure what should be done under New York law.  The problem was that W’s estate said it had a claim too.
            But under the express terms of the policy, if survivorship cannot be proved, the payment of the policy goes to the estate of the policyholder. The court does not say so specifically but the right way to do this is under contract law. Life insurance policies are contracts. W was not a party to the contract, and H had a right under the contract to change the beneficiary(ies) as he saw fit.  Hence the insurer had a contract duty to pay the monies due under the contract in accordance with it, namely, to the estate (or administrators thereof). W had no property interest in assets related to the contract, so neither she nor her estate had any right to the proceeds.
            For those having any interest in this matter, one of the cases the court cited is Hildenbrandt v. Ames, 66 S.W. 128 (Tex. Civ. App.—1901, writ refus’d), a storm case.
Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D., J.D., c.p.c.u. . . .
The Law Firm of Michael Sean Quinn et
Quinn and Quinn
                                 1300 West Lynn Street, Suite 208
                                             Austin, Texas 78703
                                                 (512) 296-2594
                                            (512) 344-9466 – Fax