Section 15 of the Act, 20 P.S. § 3455, provides:
"§ 3455. Broad construction; policy of state
"This act shall not be considered penal in nature, but shall be construed broadly in order to effect the policy of this state that no person shall be allowed to profit by his own wrong, wherever committed."
I have quoted at length from the Act of 1941 in view of the fact that it constitutes the latest expression -- legislative or judicial -- as to the public policy of Pennsylvania on the subject. It is, of course, well settled that the constitution, laws and judicial decisions of a State are to be considered in determining its public policy. As was stated in Twin City Co. v. Harding Glass Co., 283 U.S. 353, 357, 51 S. Ct. 476, 478, 75 L. Ed. 1112, 83 A.L.R. 1168: "Primarily it is for the lawmakers to determine the public policy of the state."
Also, as was stated in United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Ass'n, 166 U.S. 290, 340, 341, 17 S. Ct. 540, 559, 41 L. Ed. 1007: "The public policy of the government is to be found in its statutes, and, when they have not directly spoken, then in the decisions of the courts and the constant practice of the government officials; but when the lawmaking power speaks upon a particular subject, over which it has constitution power to legislate, public policy in such a case is what the statute enacts. If the law prohibit any contract or combination in restraint of trade or commerce, a contract or combination made in violation of such law is void, whatever may have been theretofore decided by the courts to have been the public policy of the country on that subject." (Emphasis supplied.)
In Swarthmore Borough v. Public Service Commission, 277 Pa. 472, 478, 121 A. 488, 490, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stated with respect to a contract between a transit company and a borough: "* * * when these terms and conditions are reduced to a contract, they are protected by the organic law, subject to the right of the state to vary them, under the police power, when public interests so demand * * * but it is for the Legislature -- and not the courts or the Public Service Commission -- to declare the public policy of the state in this regard * * *."
Pausing then briefly to review legislation relating to the status of murderers with respect to their right of inheritance or benefit or of others affected by the act of the murderer, we find:
(1) That under Section 23 of the Intestate Act of June 7, 1917, supra, "no person who shall be finally adjudged guilty, either as principal or accessory, of murder * * * shall be entitled to inherit or take any part of the real or personal estate of the person killed", and that Section 22 of the Act of June 7, 1917, provided that "no person who shall be finally adjudged guilty, either a principal or accessory, of murder of the first or second degree, shall be entitled to take * * * under the will of * * *" the person killed;
(2) That following the decision in the Tarlo case -- which ruled that because the murderer had himself died by suicide before he was "adjudged guilty" the murderer's estate could inherit -- the legislature of Pennsylvania enacted the Act of August 5, 1941, regulating and limiting the rights of slayers in real and personal property and in the benefits from insurance policies arising out of or as a result of the death of the person slain. Section 15 of the Act of 1941 expressly provides that it "shall be construed broadly in order to effect the policy of this State".
(3) That under Section 11(b) of the Act -- which deals with "Proceeds of insurance" -- if the slain person is beneficiary or assignee of any policy or certificate of insurance on the life of the slayer, the proceeds shall be paid to the estate of the decedent upon the death of the slayer, unless the policy names some person other than the slayer or his estate as alternative beneficiary, or unless the slayer by naming a new beneficiary or assigning the policy performs an act which would have deprived the decedent of his interest in the policy if he had been living.
It seems to me that the question presented in the instant litigation is answered in Section 11(b) of the Act of 1941. Under this Section the proceeds of the policy upon the life of the slayer shall be paid to the estate of the slain person where the slain person is the beneficiary of the policy, " Unless the policy names some person other than the slayer or his estate as alternative beneficiary, or unless the slayer by naming a new beneficiary or assigning the policy performs an act which would have deprived the decedent of his interest in the policy if he had been living".
What construction can possibly be placed upon the unequivocal language of Section 11(b) other than that the policy on the life of the slayer is valid, and its benefits payable, regardless of the fact that he had committed a murder, and irrespective as to whether or not he had been "legally executed" for the commission of his crime, as long as the beneficiary is not the "slayer or his estate"?
The plaintiff insurance company has argued very vigorously that the Pennsylvania public policy as declared in the Collins case invalidates the insurance policy itself once the slayer has been "legally executed". The public policy as enunciated by the Act of 1941 makes no such distinction with respect to the manner of death of the slayer, and expressly does not invalidate the policy on the life of the slayer. As long as he is dead, and irrespective of how he came to his death, by execution or otherwise, his policy becomes effective with respect to the payment of benefits in accordance with the provisions of Section 11(b), subject only to the exception that the "slayer or his estate" cannot recover.
Accordingly, it is my opinion that the Pennsylvania public policy does not invalidate the insurance policy in this case, by reason of the legal execution of the insured; and further, that the Pennsylvania public policy does not bar the instant beneficiary from recovery.
My conclusion is based not only on Section 11(b) of the Act of 1941, and Section 15 of the Act -- which, under the caption "Broad construction; policy of state" declares, "This act * * * shall be construed broadly in order to effect the policy of this State that no person shall be allowed to profit by his own wrong, wherever committed" -- but also upon the clear distinction repeatedly made in the numerous Pennsylvania decisions between the rights of the wrongdoing insured and his estate on the one hand, and the rights of the innocent beneficiary on the other hand.
The rationale of these decisions is, as was stated in Morris v. State Mut. Life Assurance Co., 1898, 183 Pa. 563, 573, 39 A. 52, 55, that the innocent beneficiary is "* * * not bound by any acts or declarations done or made by him [the insured] after the issue of the policy, unless such acts were in violation of some condition of the policy".
The Pennsylvania decisions have repeatedly emphasized that in a suit upon a life insurance policy by the designated beneficiary there is no legal identity of title between the insured and the beneficiary. Said the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Purcell v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 1940, 336 Pa. 588, 591, 10 A.2d 442, 443: "Whether the insured retains the right to change the beneficiary or not, the legal rights when viewed after the death of the insured are between the insured and the beneficiary. The beneficiary is suing, as a party to the contract, in her independent right, which does not depend on nor is it representative of any right of the insured. Hamill v. Supreme Council, 152 Pa. 537, 25 A. 645. See also Hermany v. Fidelity Mut. Life Ass'n, supra [151 Pa. 17, 18, 24 A. 1064]."
The Pennsylvania public policy is predicated on the premise that innocent third-party beneficiaries shall be secured in the wholesome protection that life insurance affords. As was well stated by Judge Moscowitz of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Betty Goldstein, 43 F.Supp. 765, decided February 5, 1942: "In final analysis, the granting of recovery in a case like the present one in no way benefits the criminal who is now dead and at least benefits his named beneficiaries who in most instances will be the persons deprived of support and maintenance by his death. On the other side of the ledger is the purely speculative possibility that a man who knows his kin are cared for by his insurance is more apt to commit a crime punishable by death. In reply to such an assumption, it may well be asked what sort of crime deterrent voiding of a man's life insurance may be, when the penalty of death does not halt his criminal act."
For the reasons stated the defendant's motion to dismiss is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.