Manila Bankers Life Insurance Corp. vs. Aban

G.R. No. 175666, July 29, 2013

FACTS:

Delia Sotero (Sotero) took out a life insurance policy from Manila Bankers Life Insurance Corporation (Bankers Life), designating respondent Cresencia P. Aban (Aban), her niece, as her beneficiary. When the insurance policy had been in force for more than two years and seven months, Sotero died. Respondent filed a claim for the insurance proceeds on July 9, 1996.  Petitioner conducted an investigation into the claim and found that Sotero was sickly since 1990 and the respondent was the one who filed the insurance application, and designated herself as the beneficiary. Petitioner denied respondent’s claim on April 16, 1997 and refunded the premiums paid on the policy

Petitioner filed a civil case for rescission and/or annulment of the policy. Aban argued that petitioner’s cause of action was barred by prescription pursuant to Section 48 of the Insurance Code, which provides as follows:

Whenever a right to rescind a contract of insurance is given to the insurer by any provision of this chapter, such right must be exercised previous to the commencement of an action on the contract. After a policy of life insurance made payable on the death of the insured shall have been in force during the lifetime of the insured for a period of two years from the date of its issue or of its last reinstatement, the insurer cannot prove that the policy is void ab initio or is rescindible by reason of the fraudulent concealment or misrepresentation of the insured or his agent.

RTC dismissed the case on the ground that  under Section 48, petitioner had only two years from the effectivity of the policy to question the same; since the policy had been in force for more than two years, petitioner is now barred from contesting the same or seeking a rescission or annulment thereof.

CA affirmed. 

ISSUE: 

(a) WON Section 48 cannot apply to a case where the beneficiary under the insurance contract posed as the insured and obtained the policy under fraudulent circumstances.

NO, the Supreme Court will not depart from the trial and appellate courts’ finding that it was Sotero who obtained the insurance for herself, designating respondent as her beneficiary.

Section 48 serves a noble purpose, as it regulates the actions of both the insurer and the insured. Under the provision, an insurer is given two years — from the effectivity of a life insurance contract and while the insured is alive — to discover or prove that the policy is void ab initio or is rescindible by reason of the fraudulent concealment or misrepresentation of the insured or his agent. After the two-year period lapses, or when the insured dies within the period, the insurer must make good on the policy, even though the policy was obtained by fraud, concealment, or misrepresentation. This is not to say that insurance fraud must be rewarded, but that insurers who recklessly and indiscriminately solicit and obtain business must be penalized, for such recklessness and lack of discrimination ultimately work to the detriment of bona fide takers of insurance and the public in general.

Section 48 regulates both the actions of the insurers and prospective takers of life insurance. It gives insurers enough time to inquire whether the policy was obtained by fraud, concealment, or misrepresentation; on the other hand, it forewarns scheming individuals that their attempts at insurance fraud would be timely uncovered — thus deterring them from venturing into such nefarious enterprise. At the same time, legitimate policy holders are absolutely protected from unwarranted denial of their claims or delay in the collection of insurance proceeds occasioned by allegations of fraud, concealment, or misrepresentation by insurers, claims which may no longer be set up after the two-year period expires as ordained under the law.

Life insurance policies that pass the statutory two-year period are essentially treated as legitimate and beyond question, and the individuals who wield them are made secure by the thought that they will be paid promptly upon claim. In this manner, Section 48 contributes to the stability of the insurance industry. Section 48 prevents a situation where the insurer knowingly continues to accept annual premium payments on life insurance, only to later on deny a claim on the policy on specious claims of fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation, such as what obtains in the instant case.

For nearly three years, petitioner collected the premiums and devoted the same to its own profit. It cannot now deny the claim when it is called to account. Section 48 must be applied to it with full force and effect.

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