Law School Case Brief
CNA Int'l Reinsurance Co. v. Phoenix - 678 So. 2d 378 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996)
Death renders a personal services contract impossible to perform. In such contracts, there is an implied condition that death shall dissolve the contract.
Plaintiffs CNA International Reinsurance Company, Ltd. ("CNA") and American Casualty Company of Reading, PA (collectively, "Insurers") issued policies to certain film finance companies to insure an actor's performance in two films. The actor died as a result of a drug overdose, and the Insurers subsequently paid benefits to the companies pursuant the policies. The Insurers then filed separate lawsuits in Florida state court against defendant Arlyn Phoenix, as personal representative of the actor's estate, claiming that the actor breached two actor loan-out agreements by which the actor allegedly agreed not to do anything that would deprive the parties to the agreement of its benefits. In addition, CNA asserted claim for fraud and misrepresentation based on an allegedly false representation in a medical certificate, allegedly signed by the actor, denying that he had ever used various narcotics. Phoenix filed motions to dismiss both actions, contending that there could be no cause of action for breach of contract because the personal services contracts were rendered impossible to perform due to the actor's death. Phoenix further alleged that reliance on any representation in the medical certificate was unreasonable as a matter of law as of the effective dates of the policies, which it contended were in Nov. 1993, after the widely publicized death on Oct. 31, 1993. After hearings, the trial court granted the motions to dismiss with prejudice. The Insurers appealed.
Did the defense of impossibility of performance apply if the actor's death was due to a massive intentional drug overdose?
The appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court agreed with the trial court's decision that impossibility of performance applied. Nothing in the facts warranted departure from the clear and unambiguous rule that death rendered a personal service contract impossible to perform. Additionally, the court noted, the parties could have provided for loss due to illegal drug use, but did not do so. The court ruled, however, that the trial court erred by ruling, as a matter of law, that the policies were not effective until the issuance date, Nov. 12, 1993, after the actor's death on Oct. 31, 1993. The policies, as well as pertinent endorsements, clearly reflected earlier effective dates of July 23, 1993, and Aug. 15, 1993 on their faces. Further development of the record was in order on this issue, the court ruled.
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