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Where the nature of a civil action does not involve the general character of a party, evidence as to that character cannot be offered to contradict an imputation of dishonesty, or even of fraud. The transaction presented in an ordinary civil case must depend upon its circumstances and not upon the character of the parties. In such a case, no matter how serious the moral delinquency involved in a fact, and how much the establishment of that fact may affect the reputation of a party, he cannot invoke the aid of his previous reputation to disprove the fact. Whether the act charged or complained of is indictable or not is not material.
In April 1933, the insured was accidentally shot by a trap gun which had been placed on the inside of a cottage located on the banks of a river where he was trespassing, as a result thereof, the insured died. At trial, witnesses testified as to the insured's good character. The trial court ruled in favor of Blanche Kelly, appellee beneficiary of the insured's life insurance policy. Appellant insurer Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Baltimore, MD., sought reversal of a judgment entered against it.
Should the judgment entered against appellant insurer in an insurance dispute be reversed?
On appeal, the judgment against appellant was reversed. The court likewise remanded the case and held that the insured's character was presumed good, and not having been generally attacked, character evidence was irrelevant. The court added that the evidence confused the real issue before the jury, which was whether the insured had died as the result of committing either a criminal act or violation of law. Said issue would determine whether and how much appellant was required to pay to appellee under the policy. Lastly, the court ruled that proof of an experiment made out of court was inadmissible, and withdrawal of certain special charges was not made in error.