NEDERLAND LIFE INS. CO., LTD. V. MEINERT, 199 U. S. 171 (1905)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Nederland Life Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Meinert, 199 U.S. 171 (1905)

Nederland Life Insurance Company, Ltd. v. Meinert

No. 11

Argued October 18, 1905

Decided November 6, 1905

199 U.S. 171


Promptness of payment of life insurance premiums is essential, and although forfeitures are not generally regarded with favor, they are necessary, and should be fairly enforced in regard to such payments. A statute requiring notice of time of payment of premium and effect of nonpayment thereof should not be construed so as to make it a trap for either the company or the assured.

Page 199 U. S. 172

Where the assured has received the statutory notice, containing in the words of the statute a statement as to the effect of nonpayment of the premium, the fact that a mistaken additional statement as to the forfeiture of the policy by reason of such nonpayment was contained in the notice is not such a failure to comply with the terms of the statute as will prevent a forfeiture of the policy where it appears that, after default, the assured received another notice in regard thereto, had an opportunity to reinstate the policy by payment of the premium within a specified time according to the policy, but made no payment for over three years, and did not ask for any extension of time, and the company had noted the forfeiture on its books.

Mrs. Meinert, the plaintiff below, filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Indiana her amended complaint, by leave of court, against the petitioner, the insurance company, to recover $5,000 on a certain policy of insurance for that sum on the life of her deceased husband, William Meinert. She obtained judgment on the trial before a judge without a jury, which was affirmed in the circuit court of appeals. 127 F.6d 1. This Court allowed a writ of certiorari to review that judgment, and the case is now here upon the return to that writ.

The material facts are the following: the company, on the fifth day of March, 1896, issued the policy in suit in consideration of the payment of quarterly premiums of $25.25, each, on or before the fifth days of March, June, September, and December in each year for five years; after that the payments were to be $64.25 for the following fourteen years or until the previous death of the insured, should his death occur before the expiration of the specified period. Four quarterly payments of $25.25 each were made, the last one having been made on or before December 5, 1896. No other installment of premium was ever paid. The assured died on the twenty-fourth day of March, 1900. Over three years and three months had passed therefore since the last payment of any premium. Meinert, up to the time of his death, lived at Evansville, Indiana.

On the fifteenth day of February, 1897, the company sent him by mail a written notice as follows:

Page 199 U. S. 173

"Nederland Life Insurance Co. (Ld.)"

"established in Amsterdam (Holland), 1858"

"United States Branch, 874 Broadway, New York City"

"Pursuant to chapter 690 of the Insurance Law of 1892 of the State of New York, you are hereby notified that the quarterly premium of $25.25 on policy No. 58021 will fall due on the 5th day of March, 1897, if the policy be then in force. The conditions of your policy provide that, unless such premium shall be paid at the United States branch office of the company, or to a person authorized to collect such premium, holding the company's receipt therefor, by or before that date, the policy and all payments thereon will be forfeited and void, except as to the right to a cash surrender value or paid-up policy."

"L. I. DuBourcq"

"President of the U.S. Branch"

"If payment is made to the company directly, it can be done by valid draft, check, postal or express money order, made out to the order of the United States Branch of the Nederland Life Insurance Co. (Ld.)"

This notice was duly received by the assured February 16, 1897.

On Saturday, April 3, 1897, the company sent him by mail another notice, as follows:

"Nederland Life Insurance Co., Limited"

"Established 1858, Amsterdam, Holland"

"United States Branch, 874 Broadway, New York"

"New York, April 3, 1897"

"William Meinert, 217 Law ave., Evansville, Indiana."

"Dear Sir: The premium on your policy which fell due on the 5th March has not been paid, and the policy is therefore

Page 199 U. S. 174

null and void. I beg to inform you, however, that, if the same is paid within ten days your policy will be reinstated."

"L. I. DuBourcq, President"

"Policy No. 58021"

This notice was received by him in due course of mail on Monday, April 5, 1897, but he never acknowledged its receipt, and never took any steps to have the policy reinstated. On April 22, 1897, the company entered on the appropriate records of its office the declaration that the policy was forfeited and lapsed for failure to pay installment of premium.

It was agreed between the company and the assured that the provisions printed or written upon the back of the policy were to be taken as part of it, as fully as if they were set forth at length on its face, and signed by the parties. One of them was article 2, which reads as follows:

"In case of nonpayment of any annual premium or installment thereof within thirty days after the same shall fall due, this policy shall be null and void, subject, however, to provisions as to cash surrender and paid-up policy values. The company will, however, as a matter of favor, and not of right, mail notice to the insured or the assignee at the last address furnished by him or them to the company, to the effect that the policy may be reestablished by the payment of the annual premium or installment thereof still due, within ten days after mailing notice."

The application for the insurance, which, by agreement, was also made part of the contract, provided that

"this application shall be governed by the laws of the State of New York, the place of said contract to be the principal office in the United States of said company, in the City of New York. "

Page 199 U. S. 176

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