In a suit by the heirs at law of the insured in an accident insurance policy seeking to recover the proceeds under provisions of the Act of 1952 (Ga. L. 1952, p. 288) alleging that the named beneficiary had feloniously killed the insured for the purpose of obtaining the proceeds, a verdict for the defendant was demanded where the evidence did not disclose that the beneficiary had knowledge of the existence of the policy or that his killing of the insured was for the purpose of obtaining or receiving the proceeds.
The appellant, Life & Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee, issued to Lula Bell Webb in June, 1952, a policy of insurance providing for the payment of the principal sum set forth therein to the beneficiary therein named upon the death by accidental means of the insured. Sometime after obtaining the policy Lula Bell Webb married Ernest Lee McDaniel, and thereafter on June 14, 1954, the policy was endorsed naming him as the beneficiary. The insured died from gunshot wounds September 24, 1959, and the beneficiary filed a claim under the policy October 16, 1959. Thereafter, the beneficiary was indicted and tried for the murder of the insured, and after two mistrials was acquitted February 27, 1960. On March 9, 1960, the appellant insurance company issued its check to Ernest Lee McDaniel, the beneficiary, in payment of the proceeds of the policy, and, on June 5, 1963, the heirs of Lula Bell Webb McDaniel filed this suit against the insurance company to recover the proceeds of the policy, contending that they were entitled thereto under the provisions of Section 2 of the Act approved February 15, 1952 (Ga. L. 1952, p. 288; Code Ann. 113-909).
A general demurrer to the petition was overruled and on appeal to this court the judgment was reversed. Life & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Webb, 112 Ga. App. 344 (145 SE2d 63)
. The petition was then amended to meet our ruling.
Upon the trial of the case the jury returned a verdict for the heirs, and the court entered a judgment for the amount shown to be due under the policy, together with interest thereon. A motion for new trial on the general grounds and on seven special grounds was overruled, and the defendant appeals from that judgment. Such other facts as may be necessary to an understanding of the rulings made will be set forth in the opinion.
It is true that in rendering our opinion we overlooked and did not consider the effect of the amendment of 1959 (Ga. L. 1959, p. 299) and we were in error to the extent that the amendment would have authorized a different result as to requirements of the petition, but nevertheless our holding, right or wrong, is the law of this case and became binding upon the parties, the trial court and this court.
Prior to the appeal from the overruling of a general demurrer to the petition plaintiffs had amended their petition by alleging that Ernest Lee McDaniel, husband of the insured, "did, on the 24th day of September, 1959, in the county of Bartow, unlawfully, feloniously, and with malice aforethought, kill and murder Lula Bell W. McDaniel by shooting her, the said Lula Bell McDaniel, with a double barrelled shotgun, contrary to the laws of said state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof." After our judgment on the appeal and before the remittitur was made the judgment of the trial court the petition was further amended by alleging that "said killing was done by the said Ernest Lee McDaniel for the purpose of receiving the benefits and proceeds under said insurance policy which was issued on the life of Lula Bell W. McDaniel."
Thus, under the law of the case as established by our prior decision and under the pleadings, as amended, plaintiffs has the burden of proving (1) that Ernest Lee McDaniel, the beneficiary under the policy now sued on, feloniously killed his wife, the insured, and (2) that he did so for the purpose of collecting the proceeds or benefits under the policy. Chief Judge Felton, Judges Hall, Deen and the writer of this opinion view the evidence as being insufficient to support a finding that McDaniel killed his wife. There is no direct evidence that he shot her, though there are some circumstances which indicate that he may have done so. There is some direct evidence that he did not. In our view of it the circumstances on which plaintiffs must rely as proof that he shot and killed her are so weak, vague and inconclusive as to be wholly insufficient to overcome a contrary conclusion demanded by the other evidence. Others of the majority, however, feel that on this issue a jury question was raised.
So for the nonce we assume with others of the majority that the circumstances were sufficient to raise a jury question as to whether McDaniel did shoot his wife, and if so, whether the shooting was felonious in character; even so, there is a total absence of evidence that he did it for the purpose of collecting or receiving the proceeds from this policy. There is not a word of evidence in this record that he knew or even suggesting that he knew that the policy existed. The only evidence relative to the existence of the policy (other than the policy itself) came from a sister of the insured, who testified that Mrs. McDaniel obtained the policy before she married him in 1954, and that at some time after their marriage she had the beneficiary changed, naming him. He did not procure the issuance of the policy and there is not a scintilla of proof that the husband had anything to do with the effecting of the change of beneficiary or that he knew that it had been done, and no proof that he ever made a single payment of premium or that he had any knowledge his wife did so. How, then, can it be concluded that McDaniel killed his wife to obtain the proceeds from an insurance policy the existence of which he was, insofar as the evidence discloses, wholly unaware of? The question answers itself.
The one circumstance on which plaintiffs rely to prove this essential part of their case is a statement which McDaniel made to Mrs. Florence Teal when she took his car to go call for an ambulance, admonishing her to be careful because "I haven't got any insurance on that car." There is no connection between accident insurance on his wife and liability insurance on his car. This statement simply proves, if anything, that he had no insurance on the car.
On this crucial point, then, it is inescapable that plaintiffs wholly failed to make out a case; the evidence demanded a verdict for the defendant, and the judgment must be reversed.
Since we reach this conclusion as to the general grounds of the motion for new trial it is unnecessary that we deal with the special grounds.
Judgment reversed. Felton, C. J., Bell, P. J., Jordan, Hall, Pannell, Deen and Quillian, JJ., concur. Frankum, P. J., concurs in the judgment.