Suicide, a “voluntary” act not necessarily covered by insurance

Ihe insurance code (article L 132-7) states that “Insurance in the event of death must cover the risk of suicide from the second year of the contract”. If the insured commits suicide during the tenth year, the insurer must therefore pay? Alas, no: it all depends on the category of insurance that had been taken out, as the following case reminds us.

On August 17, 2013, Mr. X was found dead in a square in Grenoble, after falling from a great height. His widow asks the Swisslife company, with which he had, on November 19, 2003, taken out a “life accident guarantee” contract, the sums to which she and her two sons believe they are entitled (192,156 euros), in event of death of the insured. The contract stipulating that suicide is a “warranty disclaimer”, it evokes a “accidental fall” from her husband.

Read also: When a suicide causes harm to others, who compensates?

The company, which asks for proof, receives a copy of a medical certificate, which it doubts is really established by the medical examiner. The text actually says : “The cause of Mr. X’s death, covered by professional secrecy and the secrecy of the judicial inquiry, does not fall within the exclusion criteria of the Swisslife life accident guarantee contract no….”. Suspecting that the insured committed suicide, she succeeded in obtaining the criminal file that X refused him, and learns that the deceased had left a farewell letter. She refuses to pay.

On November 27, 2017, the Grenoble High Court forced her to do so, judging that she did not prove that the death was the result of suicide. On April 6, 2021, the Grenoble Court of Appeal confirmed this judgment, but replaced it with the following reason, which it invoked on its own: Article L 132-7 of the Insurance Code must come into play, since the insured died in the tenth year of his contract. As for the suicide exclusion clause, it is “deemed unwritten”.

Warranty condition

Swisslife, which was unable to respond to this argument, for lack of respect for the adversarial process, is appealing in cassation, and its lawyer, Ms.e Elodie Le Prado, points out that article L 132-7, relating to the suicide of the insured, “does not apply to bodily accident insurance”. Indeed, these insurances exclude, in principle, suicide, an act ” deliberate “, “incompatible with the notion of accident”conceived as coming from a “external cause beyond the control of the insured”.

Read also: The insurer does not always compensate sudden death

Article L 132-7, which applies even in the event of suicide, therefore only concerns “life” insurance., managed by capitalization (the sums due by the insurer come from the contributions paid by the subscriber throughout his life). It does not apply to “non-life insurance”which are risk-spreading insurance operations (the sums due for claims occurring during a year come from the contributions paid by all policyholders during the year).

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