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Yates v. Bankers Life & Casualty Co.

OPINION FILED MARCH 23, 1953

CHRISTENA YATES, APPELLANT,

v.

BANKERS LIFE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Appellate Court for the Third District; — heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. DeWITT S. CROW, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE BRISTOW DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied May 18, 1953.

Plaintiff, Christena Yates, mother of the decedent, Oliver Yates, instituted proceedings to recover as beneficiary under an insurance policy issued by the defendant, Bankers Life and Casualty Company, on the life of the decedent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $2000 upon which the circuit court of Sangamon County entered judgment. The Appellate Court, however, reversed that judgment on the ground that the evidence did not establish that the decedent met his death by accidental means, and this court has allowed plaintiff leave to appeal therefrom.

The sole issue in this cause is whether the Appellate Court erred in concluding that the death of the decedent was not occasioned by accidental means as provided by the terms of the policy.

According to the uncontroverted evidence, the decedent, Oliver Yates, had been physically disabled since the age of eight in that he was paralyzed from his head to his toes on his left side, his left leg was shorter than his right leg, causing a decided limp, his left eye did not open and shut well, he was hard of hearing in his left ear, and he had difficulty in speaking and articulating words. Despite these handicaps, Yates had been self-supporting all his adult life, and was gainfully employed at the time of the event which occasioned his death. His family consisted of two daughters and a son, his wife having been dead for some twenty years. A policy of insurance was issued to him by defendant Bankers Life and Casualty Company, insuring against loss of life from bodily injuries effected through accidental means, under which policy his mother, plaintiff herein, was the beneficiary.

The alleged accident which resulted in the death of Oliver Yates occurred on November 25, 1948. Lloyd Richardson testified that on that date while he was sitting with his wife and two minor children in the living room of his one-story frame home listening to the radio, Yates, a total stranger, opened the front door and proceeded to walk into the living room. Yates had his hands extended and open, carried no weapon and made no threats or menacing gestures. However, he did not answer when Richardson asked him twice what he wanted, but merely walked toward Richardson. The latter, without any intention of hurting Yates in any way, pushed him by the shoulders out of the front door. The front door opened onto a porch, which, as revealed by an exhibit and the testimony, is six inches lower than the floor of the living room, and there is a single wooden step from the porch to the cement sidewalk. When Richardson reopened the door seconds later, he saw Yates lying on his back on the cement sidewalk with his feet on the porch step. Consequently, it was surmised that Yates lost his balance and fell backwards from the higher level of the living room down the porch step onto the sidewalk where he struck the back of his head.

Richardson tried to revive Yates with water but failed, whereupon Mrs. Richardson called the police, who arrived ten minutes later and took Yates to the hospital by ambulance. One of the police officers testified that he had known Yates and corroborated the facts with reference to Yates's difficulty in walking and speaking. It was stipulated that Yates died as a result of a skull fracture and severe injury to the brain.

On the basis of the foregoing evidence the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff for $2000 upon which the court entered judgment. The Appellate Court reversed that judgment on the theory that the event causing the insured's injuries arose out of his own misconduct rather than through accidental means.

It is evident that to recover upon the insurance policy plaintiff must establish that the death of the insured resulted solely from bodily injury caused by accidental means. The Illinois case law is replete with definitions of what constitutes death through accidental means. Christ v. Pacific Mutual Life Ins. Co. 312 Ill. 525; Hutton v. States Accident Ins. Co. 267 Ill. 267; Higgins v. Midland Casualty Co. 281 Ill. 431; Cory v. Woodmen Accident Co. 333 Ill. 175.

In Christ v. Pacific Mutual Life Ins. Co. the court reviewed the definitions and applications of the term "accident" in cases involving recovery under insurance policies, and adopted the interpretation of the United States Supreme Court in United States Mutual Accident Assn. v. Barry, 131 U.S. 100. Under the rule promulgated in the Barry case, if an act is performed with the intention of accomplishing a certain result, and if, in the attempt to accomplish that result, another result, unintended and unexpected, and not the rational and probable consequence of the intended act, in fact, occurs, such unintended result is deemed to be caused by accidental means.

In the Barry case, the insured, along with two companions, jumped from a platform 4 or 5 feet high, and in alighting unexpectedly wrenched his body by a jar which cause a stricture of the duodenum, resulting in his death a few days later. In adjudging that decedent had sustained an accident, the court stated: "The two companions of the deceased jumped from the same platform at the same time and place and alighted safely. It must be presumed not only that the deceased intended to alight safely, but thought that he would. The jury were, on all the evidence, at liberty to say that it was an accident that he did not. The court properly instructed them * * * that, if a result is such as follows from ordinary means, voluntarily employed, in a not unusual or unexpected way, it cannot be called a result effected by accidental means; but that if, in the act which precedes the injury, something unforeseen, unexpected, unusual occurs which produces the injury, then the injury has resulted through accidental means." Although the insured voluntarily and intentionally jumped from the platform, however, in the course of that act something unforeseen and unexpected occurred, i.e., the wrenching of his body and stricture of the duodenum, hence the resulting death was deemed to be caused by accidental means.

In the Christ case the deceased also did an intentional act by drinking from a faucet, however, because of an unknown defect in the valve of the water pipes, he drank polluted water and contracted typhoid fever from which he died. This unforeseen and unexpected occurrence in the act preceding the injury was deemed to render it accidental.

In the case at bar the decedent Yates voluntarily entered Richardson's home uninvited, and Richardson committed the intentional act of pushing Yates by the shoulders out of the room. Richardson's act was done, not with the intention of hurting Yates in any way, for they were not engaged in any sort of controversy or fracas, but merely to remove Yates from the room. In the course of that intentional act Yates fell backwards from the higher level of the living room floor onto the lower porch, and then down the single step onto the cement sidewalk on which he struck the back of his head in a fatal blow. Clearly, decedent's tripping backwards and ultimate skull fracture was both unexpected and unforeseen. Not only were the serious injuries to Oliver Yates unanticipated by him when he entered Richardson's home, but such a result was equally unexpected by Richardson when he pushed him through his doorway. Destroying the life of Yates was not even remotely contemplated by Richardson. One step to the porch and a single step to the sidewalk presented no ominous hazard which might reasonably foreshow a fatal injury.

Defendant, however, argues that the fatal blow on the back of decedent's head was the natural and probable result of his own misconduct, and cites the cases of Cory v. Woodman Accident Co. 333 Ill. 175, and Hutton v. States Accident Ins. Co. 267 Ill. 267, deemed ...


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