Cooper v General Accident Assurance Corporation

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHouse of Lords (Ireland)
Judgment Date13 Nov 1922

[House of Lords.]

H. L.

Cooper v. General Accident Assur. Corp.
COOPER, Appellant, and GENERAL ACCIDENT, FIRE, and LIFE ASSURANCE CORPORATION, Ltd., Respondents (1)

Insurance policy - Exception - Loss of motor car - Riot or civil commotion - Onus of proof - Inference of fact - Power of Court of Appeal to draw inference from proved facts.

The plaintiff insured his motor car with the defendant company. The policy contained an exception of "loss or damage occasioned through riot or civil commotion occurring within the land limits of Ireland." The car was stolen in circumstances, the details of which were not disputed, from which the inference might be drawn that it was taken by insurrectionists to be used in the course of the insurrectionary campaign or by ordinary thieves.

Held, by the House of Lords (affirming the decision of the High Court of Appeal for Ireland, which reversed the trial Judge, the Divisional Court of the King's Bench Division, and the Court of Appeal in Southern Ireland, ante, p. 45), that the proper inference to be drawn from the proved facts was that the loss fell within the exception.

Held, per Viscount Cave C., that if a loss takes place in consequence of civil commotion, it is not necessary to prove a commotion at the actual time and place where the loss happened to bring the case within an exception of loss occasioned through riot or civil commotion.

Per Lord Dunedin: Judges of Appeal are entitled to draw their own inferences where there is no question as to the facts themselves.

The Lord Chancellor (Viscount Cave) (2):—

My Lords, this is an appeal by the plaintiff in the action from an order of the High Court of Appeal for Ireland reversing an order of His Majesty's Court of Appeal for Southern Ireland, which had affirmed an order of the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, affirming the judgment of Mr. Justice Moore at the trial. It is worth noting in passing that this is the first instance which has come before your Lordships' House of the working of the judicial sections in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, by which in the

wisdom of Parliament no less than four appeals are competent to a litigant in cases of this kind. The amount involved in this appeal is £250.

My Lords, the facts are these. The appellant on the 7th May, 1920, insured his motor car with the respondent company, who by the policy undertook to indemnify him against loss of or damage to the car by whatever cause such loss or damage might be occasioned, but subject to certain exceptions, one of which was this: "Loss or damage occasioned through riot or civil commotion occurring within the land limits of Ireland." On the 28th October, 1920, the appellant, who lives at Ballinrea, in the district of Douglas, County Cork, returned in the car from Cork and put the car in his garage close to his house; and he describes what then happened in this way: "Between 7 and 8 o'clock that evening I heard what I thought was a car. I went to the back door (from house into yard). I opened it; a voice said, 'Shut that door!' I opened it again; voice again, 'Shut that door!' A third time this happened; all I saw was an arm; it held what might have been a revolver or else a stick." I note that the witness in his statement described the weapon as a revolver. He goes on:"Shortly after I saw car moving off"; and then in cross-examination he said: "No alarm given at all before I heard the noise of the car. I only saw the arm of the man; I never saw the body of the man. Somebody (other than this man) started the car, probably some one or more; but I did not see anything except the one man's arm. Two other cars were taken near me on Monday." In addition to that evidence there was evidence for the defendants, consisting mainly of the evidence of District Inspector Patrick Riordan, who says this: "In October" (that is, the month in question) "five cars in my whole area were taken; one of these was the plaintiff's car; two were from neighbours of plaintiff (only three in Douglas for whole period up to April); motors taken, according to police returns, from 1st October to end of April, in whole City of Cork and rural district, fourteen cars; one car was taken from outside Imperial Hotel in Cork, where it was left in the street during a children's party"; and then he adds: "There is a state of guerilla warfare in parts of Cork county and in the City of Cork (this does not apply to Douglas, or to five or six miles round). The combatants largely avail themselves of motors in their attacks on police and military."

Now, on those facts a claim was made under the policy; and it was disputed by the insurance company on the ground that the case fell within the exception of loss occasioned through riot or civil commotion. Mr. Justice Moore, who tried the case, found in favour of the plaintiff, and his decision was upheld by the first and second Courts of Appeal...

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