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decided: January 7, 1935.



Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Butler

[ 293 U.S. Page 499]

 MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In September, 1917, respondent, then 24 years old, enlisted in the United States Navy. He was successively commissioned ensign and lieutenant, and became an air pilot. He was honorably discharged June 30, 1922. While in the service he obtained a policy of war risk insurance which lapsed November 30, 1923. He brought this suit March 15, 1932, in the federal district court for northern Florida to recover the amounts payable under

[ 293 U.S. Page 500]

     the policy for total permanent disability alleged to have resulted from kidney disease and injuries received in an airplane crash occurring while the policy was in force. At the close of all the evidence the United States moved for a directed verdict. The motion was denied, the jury found for respondent, and the court gave him judgment which was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 68 F.2d 656.

The policy covers total permanent disability, whatever its cause, occurring before the lapse. The evidence was not confined to that period, for respondent's subsequent condition is pertinent to the extent that it tends to show whether he became totally and permanently disabled before the lapse. Lumbra v. United States, 290 U.S. 551, 560. The United States maintains that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the verdict. And that is the sole question presented for our consideration.

The material substance of the evidence follows.

In the latter part of 1919, respondent first had kidney trouble. According to the naval medical records, he was sick four times from what was finally diagnosed as a kidney stone. These illnesses were in June and September, 1920, and in January and August, 1921; their duration in all was about six weeks; while they lasted urinalyses sometimes disclosed albumin, casts and corpuscles in varying quantities. Some time after the last attack, the stone was removed. November 14, 1921, respondent's upper and lower jaws were fractured in the airplane crash. He was in the naval hospital until February, 1922. He testified that he continuously had kidney trouble and severe pains in the head and back. When discharged the only defect noted was that his teeth did not occlude properly. Due to that he had gastritis February 28. Urinalysis then disclosed very few blood cells, occasional pus cells but no albumin or casts. The gastritis disappeared. In May following, his teeth were treated for the malocclusion.

[ 293 U.S. Page 501]

     Respondent testified that he was then suffering kidney pains and that his left antrum was much swollen. A civilian, Dr. Quina, treated the antrum.

May 31 respondent went again to the hospital. He then stated that two years earlier he had suffered acute illness following exposure in wet and cold, had not felt well since and for the last month had been treated for kidney trouble. The diagnosis then made was "nephritis chronic parenchymatous." June 26, 1922, he was examined for discharge from the service. The medical officers noted their opinion that the nephritis was due to toxic materials absorbed from the antrum and that infection of the antrum resulted from injuries sustained in the airplane crash. He was found "not physically qualified for active duty in the Navy by reason of the following physical defects which are of a more or less temporary nature: Infection of left antrum and malocclusion of the teeth." And on that day he certified that he had the following disabilities entitling him to compensation under the War Risk Insurance Act: Infection of the left antrum, malocclusion of the teeth, stomach trouble and heart murmur. He made no claim that he had become totally and permanently disabled or that he was entitled to the amounts that under the policy are payable therefor.

Respondent did nothing from the time he was discharged until February, 1923. He testified that during that period he was ill and under the care of doctors, who forbade work. When he finally did work, it was against their orders and to support his family. From February, 1923, until April, 1924, he took vocational training. During that time his policy lapsed. He quit before completion of the course because, as he says, he was no better and thought outdoor work would be good for him. Then for more than a year he was ...

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