Tennessee Odin Ins. Co. v. Dickey – Case Brief Summary (Tennessee)

Tennessee Odin Ins. Co. v. Dickey, 190 Tenn. 96, 228 S.W.2d 73, 74 (Tenn. 1950) involved an insured who was acquitted on arson charges in regard to his truck, and then sued his insurer to recover for his loss.

The insurer's defense was that the insured had fraudulently procured the burning of his vehicle. Id. at 74.

At trial, the insured was permitted to introduce evidence of his acquittal on charges that he willfully burned the truck for the purpose of defrauding his insurance company. Id.

However, the trial court gave a limiting jury instruction, stating that "this proof could not be considered as evidence" that the insured did not burn his truck, but could be considered as to his credibility. Id.

Despite the limiting jury instruction, the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The Tennessee court focused on the irreparable prejudice to the insurer. Indeed, the court was "strongly convinced" that the introduction of the evidence of the acquittal might well have misled the jury to conclude that the insurer's "defense was false." Id.

Thus, it concluded that evidence of the acquittal "resulted in greatly impairing if not destroying the only defense which the insurance company had." Id.

In reaching that result, the appellate court relied on key distinctions between criminal and civil proceedings. It said:

"The fact that the State was unable to prove 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that the insured was guilty of the crime of arson was wholly inadmissible upon the same issue in the civil suit in which his guilt could be shown by a preponderance of the evidence." Id.

Moreover, it noted that the criminal trial "was an issue between the State and the plaintiff to redress a public wrong; while the present civil suit is to enforce a private right arising under contract." Id.