Copelin v. Insurance Company

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 461

Copelin  v.  Insurance Company

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Missouri, in which court Copelin brought suit against the Phoenix Insurance Company, on a policy of insurance for $5000 on the steamer Benton, valued in the policy at $45,000. The policy contained these stipulations:

'In case of loss, the party insured shall use every practicable effort for the safeguard and recovery of said steamboat, and if recovered cause the same to be forthwith repaired; and in case of neglect or refusal, on the part of the assured, to adopt prompt and efficient measures for the safeguard and recovery thereof, then the insurers are hereby authorized to interpose and recover the said steamboat, and cause the same to be repaired for account of the assured, to the charges of which the said insurance company will contribute in proportion as the sum herein assured bears to the agreed value in this policy. The acts of the assured or assurers, or of their joint or respective agents, in preserving, securing, or saving the property insured in case of danger or disaster, shall not be considered or held to be a waiver or acceptance of abandonment.'

The cause having been submitted to the court without a jury, the court found that the boat insured struck a snag, and sunk in the Missouri River, November 3d, 1865, and that the injury was caused by one of the perils against which the company had insured; that though the plaintiff had no right to abandon for a total loss, he gave notice that he did so abandon; but the defendants did not accept such abandonment; that they did, however, under the provisions of the policy, take possession of the vessel for the purpose of raising and repairing her, and returning her to the plaintiff; that accordingly they raised the boat, proceeded to repair her, and tendered her to the plaintiff, at the home port, on the 9th of May, 1866, more than six months after she had been injured. It was further found, that the repairs and tender were not made within a reasonable time; that had the boat been tendered earlier in the season, so as to be used for the spring trade on the river, she would have been worth $5000 more to the plaintiff; that when she was tendered to him, the repairs made were not sufficient to indemnify him for the injury the boat had sustained; that it would have required an expenditure of $5000 more to have made the additional repairs necessary to complete the indemnity; and that the plaintiff refused to receive the boat when she was tendered to him, but did not point out the deficiencies in the repairs. It was still further found that the expense of raising and repairing the boat, actually incurred by the defendants, was $12,150.62, of which $1763.70 was the cost of the repairs made; that the boat, as tendered to the plaintiff, was worth $12,000, and that when injured she was worth $25,000. Upon the facts thus found, the Circuit Court gave judgment for the plaintiff for the amount named in the policy. And the insurance company brought the case here.

Mr. J. O. Broadheal, for the Company, plaintiff in error:

If there was no right to abandon as for a total loss, and no acceptance of abandonment, the question becomes simply one of damages under the policy. The vessel, when tendered to the owner, was worth $12,000. It would have taken $5000 to put her in complete repair,-that is to say, to make her as good as she was before she received an injury. This would make $17,000. But the underwriters paid $12,150.62, the expense of raising and repairing the vessel; and if they are now, by the judgment of the court, required to pay, in addition, the amount of the policy, $5000, with interest, they pay over $17,000 to the owner; in other words, they pay more than a total loss; so that, although there was no right to abandon, and no abandonment accepted, and no total loss, the insurer is held liable for a total loss.

It is provided by the terms of the policy that the acts of the assurer or assurers, or their agents, in preserving, securing, or saving the property insured, in case of damage or disaster, shall not be considered or held to be a waiver or acceptance of abandonment.

The expenses for raising and repairing the boat, $12,150, were paid out by the underwriters, under the policy, in attempting to rescue the boat, 'to the charges of which the insurance company is only bound to contribute in proportion as the sum assured bears to the agreed value in the policy,'-that is, as $5000 is to $45,000, or one-ninth part of those expenses,-the balance, of course, to be paid by the boat; and the insurance company may make the expenses in rescuing the boat for account of the asured. One-ninth of $12,150 is $1350, leaving $10,800 due by the assured. If from this is deducted $5000, the amount necessary to put the boat into complete repair, there remains $5800 due, which is more than the amount of the policy, if there was no abandonment, no total loss.

The judgment below proceeds on an idea, that although there was no total loss, yet the insurance company has rendered itself liable for a total in other words, that there was a constructive total loss; but how can it be said that there is a constructive total loss when there is no right to abandon, no acceptance of abandonment, and of course no abandonment?

If the assurer the failed, after saving the boat, to put her in complete repair, the most that can be said is that he has failed to make good the loss to the assured, and that is all the contract requires the assurer to do.

[The learned counsel then went into an examination of the evidence on which the court below made its finding, to show that it was the fault of the assured that the boat was not repaired and tendered to him in a reasonable time.]

Messrs. Glover, Shepley, and Rankin, contra.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).