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AUTO VICTIM'S WIDOW LOSES HER INSURANCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

AUTO VICTIM'S WIDOW LOSES HER INSURANCE

The New York Times
December 23, 1922


His Fate Unknown for Four Years Court Upholds Ten-Day Notice of Death Clause.

Mrs. Nellie D. Lyman, widow of John W. Lyman of Philadelphia, who was drowned when his automobile plunged into the Delaware River near that city in 1913, lost yesterday by a decision of the Appellate Division her suit to collect on a policy of insurance in the Commercial Travelers Mutual Accident Association of America.  The details of the death of Mr. Lyman were not known until 1917 when his automobile was found in the river.  Claim under the policy was made at once.

The insurance company refused to pay on the ground that the policy required that notice of death be given within ten days after it occurred, but Mrs. Lyman, in whose behalf suit was brought here by William E. Hanna, got a judgement for $5,798 in the lower court.  The Appellate Division reversed the judgement and dismissed the complaint because the insurance company did not become liable unless the terms of the policy were complied with, regardless of the fact that nothing was known as to what had become of Mr. Lyman until his automobile was found four years later.

In a dissenting opinion Presiding Justice Clarke said:
"Of course it was impossible for him to give the notice required in case of accident by the policy.  It was equally impossible for his widow to give such notice because the sole fact apparent at the time was that he had disappeared.  It is obvious that death occurred by accident and that it was within the terms of the policy.  It is also obvious that the attempted cancellation of the policy is without effect.  To hold that the plaintiff was bound to give notice of the death of her husband, with full particulars before she had any knowledge of the facts would be to require her, by a technical and literal construction, to do an impossible thing which was not within the intention of the parties when the contract was made."

Mr. Lyyman was manager of the Philadelphia office of the Hydraulic Tire Company when he died.  The testimony showed that his automobile plunged over an unguarded embankment into the river on a rainy morning.

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