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When Did the War Begin?, 47 Columbia Law Review 742 (1947)


The Circuit Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, recently had occasion to decide a life insurance case, New York Life Insurance Co. v. Bennionl the determination of which involved the interesting question, "When did the war begin for the United States ?" Mrs. Louise Bennion sued the New York Life Insurance Company for the double indemnity of $10,000 due her in the event of the death of her husband by "accident." Her husband, Captain Bennion, was killed when his ship was sunk at Pearl Harbor in the Japanese attack December 7, 1941. The company duly paid the principal sum due under the policy, $10,000. However, the policy excepted from the liability for double indemnity an accident which occurred in "war or an act incident thereto," so that if Pearl Harbor involved "war," double indemnity was not due. The issue turned on the question whether this country was at war when Pearl Harbor was attacked, or only got into war when Congress declared war, December 8, 1941, 4:10 p.m., i.e., whether the Pearl Harbor attack occurred in time of peace, as Mrs. Bennion, the plaintiff, contended, or whether the attack was itself an act of war. The company had no difficulty in proving that every one regarded the attack as an act of war, and in holding for the insurance company, the court stated that it is commonly known that Pearl Harbor "commenced" the war.

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insurance, war, Pearl Harbor