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BROWN v. CARNEGIE-ILLINOIS STEEL CORP. ET AL. (01/12/51)

January 12, 1951

BROWN
v.
CARNEGIE-ILLINOIS STEEL CORP. ET AL.



COUNSEL

Samuel J. Goldstein, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Thomas Lewis Jones, Pittsburgh, for appellee Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of the United States.

P. K. Motheral (of Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay), Pittsburgh, for appellee Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp.

Before Hirt, Acting P.j., and Reno, Dithrich, Ross, Arnold and Gunther, JJ.

Author: Hirt

[ 168 Pa. Super. Page 382]

HIRT, Judge.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society issued a group insurance policy to United States Steel Corporation which inured to the benefit of such of its employes and those of its subsidiaries as elected to benefit by its provisions. On January 24, 1940, plaintiff, an employe of Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation, applied for and received insurance under the contributory group life insurance plan of the policy, in the sum of $2,000 and agreed to pay the monthly premiums chargeable to him for the coverage. The amount of the insurance was later increased to $2,500. His interest in the group insurance was evidenced by an individual certificate, issued to him, wholly in accordance with the terms of the master policy. In this action in equity plaintiff sought to restrain the insurer permanently from terminating his beneficial interest in the group insurance. As prayed for in the bill an injunction, preliminary until hearing, was entered by the court on March 18, 1949, enjoining the defendants from canceling plaintiff's coverage in the group policy. After final hearing however the court in banc affirmed the chancellor's findings of fact and conclusions of law and dismissed plaintiff's bill. The decree must be affirmed.

Plaintiff's employment with Carnegie-Illinois began in January 1940 and continued until March 10, 1947 when he ceased active work because of disability from pulmonary tuberculosis. He has been totally disabled since that date. After ceasing the work of his employment

[ 168 Pa. Super. Page 383]

    claimant nevertheless continued to pay his employer the monthly premiums, as theretofore, in an effort to keep his insurance in force. The employer accepted these payments and continued to carry claimant on its records as an employe for nearly two years, and until February 7, 1949. On that date Carnegie-Illinois notified plaintiff that his nominal status as an employe of that company would end on March 10, 1949 because of absence for more than two years from date last worked due to disability and that his insurance under the certificate issued to him by Equitable under the group policy would terminate 31 days thereafter on April 10, 1949. It is the contention of this claimant-appellant that his insurance is still in force for the reason alleged that the insurer was without authority under the group policy to terminate his insurance during the period of his disability from illness.

Every intendment of the policy, as evidenced by its terms, refutes this contention of appellant. The obvious primary purpose of this type of insurance is to supply low cost insurance for the protection of workmen while actually employed. To overburden the obligation of the insurer with risks such as urged by appellant would tend to defeat that end. Since the hiring of appellant was not for a definite term his tenure of employment was at will and therefore terminable at any time by either party. Trainer v. Laird, 320 Pa. 414, 183 A. 40. Carnegie-Illinois had the right to terminate appellant's status as an employe as it did and thereupon his rights as an insured were determined not by his employer but by the fixed terms of his insurance contract.

In group life insurance policies the insurer and the employer are the primary contracting parties and an insured employe has no greater rights than those provided in the policy. Peyton v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc., 159 Pa. Super. 318, 48 A.2d 145. ...


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