Mr. Gerald Arthur Letts

Gerald Letts, 45, was a British citizen and an importer and dealer in antiques and rare art objects. He was traveling aboard Lusitania in a party of nine that included Edgar Gorer, Frank Partridge, and Martin Van Straaten. He had previously sailed to the United States aboard Lusitania on 16 January 1915 with Gorer, Partridge, and Van Straaten. His ticket on board the ship's final voyage was 46139, and he was in cabin A-32. Letts was sailing home to his wife in England. He was lost in the sinking of the Lusitania when the ship was torpedoed and sunk on 7 May 1915. His body was either not recovered or not identified. His widow attempted to claim insurance from his loss in the case of Letts v. Excess Insurance Company but was not successful. The following is a commentary on the case from The Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor, 25 March 1916, page 222: Law Reports ---- Construction of personal accident policy. LETTS v. EXCESS INSURANCE COMPANY, If an insurance policy against death by accident contains conditions providing that (1) The Company will not be liable in respect of any death of the assured directly or indirection caused or contributed to by war . . . or for death by duelling or fighting [or by or result from any one of several other specified causes]: and (2) The Company will not be liable in respect of any death of the assured caused by an accident happening outside the limits of Europe unless same be agreed by special endorsement; but by a typewritten clause added to the policy it is provided that Notwithstanding anything herein contained the assured is fully covered while on a journey from the United Kingdom to the United States of America and or Canada, while there an on return, has this added clause the effect of abrogating or suspending the operation of the War risks exception in clause (1) while the assured is on the journey mentioned in the added clause? No, said Mr. Justice Bailhache in the King's Bench Division on the 8th March: the added clause only meant that the assured was to be as fully covered while on his journey to America and back as he would be if the accident had happened in Europe. The action was brought by the widow of Gerald Arthur Letts, who was drowned in the "Lusitania." against the above-named company, for £5,000 on a policy against death by accident, dated March 23, 1915. The assured, G. A. Letts, a dealer in antiques, had occasion to cross the Atlantic frequently. He left this country for the United States on January 16, 1915. He was at that time covered by a policy issued by the defendant Company on August 26, 1914, for six months, expiring on February 25, 1915. This policy excluded war risks. As Mr. Letts wished the policy renewed, the policy sued upon was issued by the defendant Company in consideration of a premium of 2s 6d per cent., covering the assured for six months from February 25, 1915, against accident directly causing his death. The policy contained the conditions and added clause quoted in the head-note to this report. It was admitted that Mr. Letts left the United States on his return to England in the "Lusitania," which was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1916, and that he was drowned. The defence raised by the Company was that they were not liable on the policy, as the death of Mr. Letts was directly or indirectly caused or contributed to by war within the meaning of the first of the conditions contained in the policy: but the plaintiff relied upon the typewritten clause as showing that condition (1) had no application to the case of a death caused during a voyage from the United States. The defendants also claimed that the policy should be rectified so as to give effect tot he slip put forward to the Company by the insurance brokers actingon behalf of the assured, which slip expressly excluded war risks. Mr. Justice Bailhache, in the course of his judgment, said that with regard to the construction of the policy he could not agree with the construction of the typewritten clause that the assured was fully covered against war risks. Clause (1) included a large number of accidents from other causes besides war risks, in which cases the Company were not to be liable, and he did not think that it was the intention of the defendant Company that Mr. Letts should be covered against all those cases of accident while on his journey to the United States and back, and while there. He could not distinguish between those classes of addicents and accidents caused by war. He read the clause as meaning that the assured was to be as fully covered while on his journey to America and back as he would be if the accident had happened in Europe. With regard to rectification, when two parties made a contract in clear terms which was afterwards written out in a formal document, if that formal document did not express the terms of the contract it might be rectified so as to make it conform to the original contract. The contract in this case was in the slip with contained the words "ex war." That slip was put forward by the broker on behalf of Mr. Letts, and, having regard to the broker's evidence and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, must be taken to represent the intention of Mr. Letts. The intention of the defendant Company was to issue a policy in accordance with that slip. Therefore, there was a common intention to make a contract on the terms of the slip, and if the policy did not carry out those terms it ought to be rectified. The plaintiff being wrong on both points, judgment must be for the defendants. ---- It should be added that the Excess Insurance Company, after judgment had been given in their favour, repreated an offer which they had made before the case came on hearing, but which was then refused, to pay the plaintiff £1,000, the parties paying their own costs. The offer was now gratefully accepted. Counsel for the defendants said that the Company had always had the greatest sympathy for the plaintiff, but they thought it necessary to fight the case on a question of principle. Contributors Jim Kalafus Judith Tavares References The Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor, 25 March 1916, page 222.

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