The Tennessee Court of Appeals released Tuturea v. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company on June 29, 2010. Its certainly an interesting opinion, although a bit long for fun reading (29 pages). The basic facts are this. Mr. Tuturea suffered from terminal cancer, and set fire to his house in an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. His home was destroyed in the fire, and he then passed away a few months later. His wife’s claim for insurance proceeds was denied, and she sued to recover on the insurance policy.
The issue presented by Mrs. Tuturea on appeal was whether the fire was "intentional" within the meaning of the subject insurance policy. Relying on expert testimony, she argued that Mr. Tuturea did not form a conscious desire to bring about the fire because "he was insane, had an acute break with reality, and was not in control of his actions when he set the fire." After weighing the evidence, the trial court disagreed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed his decision. What’s interesting about this case is the issue that wasn’t decided. In a footnote, the court noted that "some jurisdictions hold that an insane person is incapable or forming the intent to commit an intentional act in the insurance context," while others hold "that an actor is able to commit an intentional act so long as the actor understands the physical nature and consequences of the act, regardless of whether the actor is able to distinguish right from wrong." Unfortunately, that issue wasn’t presented, nor was it decided.
There was one other interesting twist about this case, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.