In Benson v. Leaders Life Ins. Co., 2012 OK 111, the insured did not admit to any alcohol problems in his life insurance application, although he did admit to having a blood clot in his leg. Almost a year later, the insured was killed when he was attempting to help a stranded motorist. Hospital records apparently showed the deceased had a blood alcohol content of 0.24%
After reviewing the records the insurance company concluded that Mr. Benson had falsified his answers on his application and rescinded the policy due to Mr. Benson’s alcoholism. Leaders Life would rescind the policy even if the mistake was innocent, and the state of mind of the applicant was never considered. It was agreed that alcohol played no part in Mr. Benson’s death.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court held in Massachusetts Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Allen, 1965 OK 203, 416 P.2d 935, there must be a finding of an intent to deceive the insurer before a policy may be avoided by reason of the insured’s false statement or omission in the application. "Massachusetts Mutual, Whitlatch, Brunson, Claborn and Scottsdale are controlling precedent from this Court requiring a finding of insured’s intent to deceive an insurer before a misrepresentation, an omission or incorrect statement in an application can avoid the policy under §3609."
Since the jury heard the evidence and it was a jury question, the court refused to reweigh the evidence and affirmed the award of $350,000 in actual damages and $10,000 in punitive damages:
"In plain language, we are not allowed to substitute our judgment for that of the jury merely because we would have decided or viewed disputed material fact questions differently than the jury. Where competent evidence was presented at trial to support reasonable findings as to those material fact questions relating to the claim in suit and no reversible error is otherwise shown, an appellate court must affirm a judgment based on a jury verdict, not second-guess such judgment or the jury verdict upon which it is based. These general principles guide our review here.
In the present matter, at trial, Leaders Life made clear that they believed there were material misrepresentations made by Mr. Benson. They argued that insured had attempted to deceive them. However, the trier of fact, the jury did not find that such a misrepresentation had been made. They decided in favor of the beneficiary, Shannon Benson and awarded her $350,000.00 dollars in actual damages and $10,000.00 in punitive damages. In the present matter, Mr. Benson did not die from an alcohol related illness; he died by being hit by a car attempting to assist a stranded motorist. If he had ignored the stranded motorist, Mr. Willige, Mr. Benson would have not been struck and may still be alive and working today. This Court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the jury under the case law presented in this lawsuit. Brunson v. Mid-Western Life Ins. Co., 1976 OK 32, ¶21, 547 P.2d 970; Whitlatch v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., 1968 OK 6, ¶11, 441 P.2d 956; Scottsdale Insurance Company v. Tolliver, 2005 OK 93, ¶11, 127 P.3d 611."