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Historic Public Health and Communicable Disease Cases

Bacon v. United States Mut. Acc. Ass'n, 25 N.E.399 (Ct. App. N.Y. 1890)

(Anthrax, Insurance, Accidental Death)

The main question in this appeal is whether the deceased died as a result of bodily injury, effected through external, violent and accidental means as covered by an insurance policy. The deceased died from anthrax from contact with putrid animal matter infected with the disease. After an exhaustive analysis of the testimony of the many expert witnesses, the court determined that anthrax should be considered a disease and thus excluded from coverage by the insurance policy. The dissent however said that it should be considered an accident because people who work with wool commonly contract anthrax. The deceased was employed at a railroad where hides were occasionally shipped. This means that, even though the anthrax produced disease-like symptoms, the fact that the deceased contracted it is more analogous to an accidental injury, more analogous to "breathing an atmosphere impregnated with illuminating gas, while in some way escaped from pipes, while the insured was asleep," which has been held to be within the coverage of an insurance policy. Paul v. Insurance Co., 112 N.Y. 472, 20 N.E.Rep. 347. The dissent also pointed out that both courts in England and in the United States have "given to these words a broad and liberal interpretation in favor of the insured, or the beneficiary designated in the policy." Because it is the jury's duty to weigh all the evidence and to make factual determinations and it is common practice to construe insurance policy liberally in favor of the insured, the court should affirm the lower court's decision.

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