Van Riper v. Constitutional Government League
In Van Riper v. Constitutional Government League, 1 Wn.2d 635, 96 P.2d 588 (1939) the Court held that a criminal act exclusion does not apply to all acts technically classified as crimes, but only to serious criminal conduct "done with malicious intent, from evil nature, or with a wrongful disposition to harm or injure other persons or property." Id. at 642.
William Edmund Van Riper died in an automobile accident after running a stop sign and entering an intersection at an excessive speed--acts classified as criminal misdemeanors. Van Riper, 1 Wn.2d at 637-38.
Death benefits claimed by his wife and three daughters, who survived the accident, were denied based on the certificate's exclusion of benefits in cases of "'death due to acts committed in criminal violation of law.'" Id. (emphasis omitted).
However, the Court held:
To say that a layman . . . would apply the word "criminal" to the act of one who, under the circumstances here present, exceeded a speed limit or failed to stop before entering an arterial highway, is either to ignore the common usage of the term or else to imply that practically everyone who has ever driven an automobile is a criminal.
We believe that the word "criminal," as used in the death benefit certificate, was meant to signify an act done with malicious intent, from evil nature, or with a wrongful disposition to harm or injure other persons or property.
Certainly, none of these obliquities could be ascribed to Mr. Van Riper, who had in his charge, upon the particular occasion, his wife and daughters.Van Riper, 1 Wn.2d at 642.