Rehearing Denied April 19, 1948.
Messrs. Harvey W. Johnson and Jesse W. Boyd, both of Spartanburg, S.C ., for petitioner.
Messrs. C. F. Haynsworth, of Greenville, S.C., and E. W. Dillon, of Columbus, Ohio, for respondent.
Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a suit to obtain payment of the proceeds of a $5,000 insurance policy. Federal jurisdiction is founded on diversity of citizenship, and, for present purposes, [ King v. Order of United Commercial Travelers 333 U.S. 153 (1948) ] [333 U.S. 153 , 154]
South Carolina law is controlling. 1 We granted certiorari2 in order to determine whether the Circuit Court of Appeals' refusal (161 F.2d 108) to follow the only South Carolina decision directly in point, the decision of a Court of Common Pleas, was consistent with the Rules of Decision Act3 as applied in Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 1938, 304 U.S. 64 , 114 A.L.R. 1487, and subsequent cases.
The petitioner, Mrs. King, is the beneficiary of the policy; her husband, Lieutenant King, was the insured; and the respondent Order of United Travelers of America is the insurer. The policy insured against King's accidental death, but contained a clause exempting the respondent from liability for 'death resulting from participation * * * in aviation.' It is this aviation exclusion clause which gave rise to the litigation now before us.
King lost his life one day in the winter of 1943 when a land-based Civil Air Patrol plane in which he was flight observer made an emergency landing thirty miles off the coast of North Carolina. The plane sank, but King was not seriously hurt and managed to get out of the plane and don his life jacket. He was still alive two and a half hours later, when an accompanying plane was forced to leave the scene. When picked up about four and a half hours after the landing, however, he was dead. The medical diagnosis was 'drowning as a result of exposure in the water.'
The respondent took the position that death, while 'accidental,' resulted from 'participation * * * in avia- [333 U.S. 153 , 155] tion.' Accordingly, it refused to pay Mrs. King the proceeds of the policy. A resident of South Carolina, she then sued the respondent in a court of that State, contending that drowning rather than the airplane flight was the cause of death within the meaning of the policy. The respondent, an Ohio corporation, exercised its statutory right to remove the cause to the federal District Court for the Western District of South Carolina.