Brissette v. Westbury Life, (1992) 58 O.A.C. 10 (SCC)

Judge:La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, Stevenson and Iacobucci, JJ.
Court:Supreme Court of Canada
Case Date:February 27, 1992
Jurisdiction:Canada (Federal)
Citations:(1992), 58 O.A.C. 10 (SCC)

Brissette v. Westbury Life (1992), 58 O.A.C. 10 (SCC)

MLB headnote and full text

[French language version follows English language version]

[La version française vient à la suite de la version anglaise]


Gerald M. Brissette and Bernard Bezaire as executor and trustee of the last will and testament of Mary Cecile Brissette, deceased (appellants) v. Westbury Life Insurance Company, formerly known as Pitts Life Insurance Company (respondent)

(No. 22125)

Indexed As: Brissette v. Westbury Life Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Canada

La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, Stevenson and Iacobucci, JJ.

October 29, 1992.


A husband (G. Brissette) and his wife purchased a joint life insurance policy. The sum insured was $200,000. Two years and two months later, the husband murdered his wife. The wife left a will appointing her husband as executor and prime beneficiary of her estate and B. Bezaire as the alternate executor. The husband initiated a claim to the insurance proceeds. He was convicted of murder. During the criminal proceedings the husband renounced his appointment as exec­utor and trustee of his wife's estate and surrendered his rights under the policy to B. Bezaire, the alternate executor. The insur­ance company applied for summary judg­ment to have the claim dismissed. B. Bezaire applied for a declaration that the estate was entitled to payment of the insurance pro­ceeds.

The Ontario Supreme Court, in a decision reported 69 O.R.(2d) 215, held that the wife's estate was entitled to the insurance proceeds. The insurance company appealed.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, in a decision reported [1990] I.L.R. 2631; 40 O.A.C. 38; 74 O.R.(2d) 1; 72 D.L.R.(4th) 138; 49 C.C.L.I. 282, allowed the insurance com­pany's appeal. The court granted summary judgment dismissing the action against the insurance company. The husband, the alter­nate executor and the wife's estate appealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada, Cory and Gonthier, JJ., dissenting, dismissed the appeal. The court affirmed that the wife's estate was not entitled to the insurance proceeds.

Insurance - Topic 3302

Payment of insurance proceeds - Actions - Defences - Intentional act by insured to bring about loss (public policy rule) - A couple purchased a joint life insurance policy - The husband murdered the wife - He was named as executor and prime beneficiary in the wife's will - The hus­band initiated an insurance claim - After the husband's murder conviction, the wife's alternate executor pursued the insurance claim, arguing that the wife's estate was entitled to the proceeds - The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the claim, holding that the policy clearly provided that the proceeds went to the survivor (i.e., the husband), but public policy prevented this result - Further, the doctrine of con­structive trust was inapplicable, where there was nothing unjust in applying the public policy rule and there was no unjust en­richment.

Insurance - Topic 7148

Life insurance - Beneficiaries - Determi­nation of - Where named beneficiary predeceases insured - Insurance Act (Ont.), s. 171(1) - A husband and wife purchased a joint life insurance policy with $200,000 coverage - The husband there­after murdered the wife - The wife named the husband as her executor and prime beneficiary and named an alternate execu­tor - The husband initiated a claim to the insurance proceeds - After his murder conviction, the alternate executor pursued the claim, arguing that the wife's estate was entitled to the proceeds - The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that under a proper interpretation of the policy, the wife's estate was not entitled to the proceeds - Further, s. 171 of the Insurance Act could not be applied so as to designate the wife's estate as the alternate beneficiary - See paragraphs 17, 71, 72.

Insurance - Topic 7226

Life insurance - Defences and exclusions - Death of insured caused by wrongful act of beneficiary - [See Insurance - Topic 3302 ].

Insurance - Topic 7255

Life insurance - Payment of proceeds - Death of insured caused by wrongful act of beneficiary - [See Insurance - Topic 3302 ].

Restitution - Topic 123

Unjust enrichment - Remedies - Con­structive trust - [See Insurance - Topic 3302 ].

Trusts - Topic 2310

Constructive trusts - Circumstances when not imposed - [See Insurance - Topic 3302 ].

Trusts - Topic 2346

Constructive trusts - Basis for imposition - Unjust enrichment - [See Insurance - Topic 3302 ].

Cases Noticed:

Consolidated-Bathurst Export Ltd. v. Mutual Boiler and Machinery Insurance Co., [1980] 1 S.C.R. 888; 32 N.R. 488, refd to. [paras. 4, 40].

Spicer v. New York Life Insurance Co. (1920), 268 F. 500, cert. denied. (1921), 255 U.S. 572, refd to. [paras. 5, 51].

Demeter v. Dominion Life Assurance Co. (1981), 33 O.R.(2d) 839 (H.C.), affd. (1982), 35 O.R.(2d) 560 (C.A.), appld. [para. 8 et seq.].

Cleaver v. Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association, [1892] 1 Q.B. 147, dist. [para. 8 et seq.].

Schobelt v. Barber, [1967] 1 O.R. 349 (H.C.J.), refd to. [para. 13].

International Corona Resources Ltd. v. LAC Minerals Ltd., [1989] 2 S.C.R. 574; 101 N.R. 239; 36 O.A.C. 57; 61 D.L.R.(4th) 14; 69 O.R.(2d) 287; 35 E.T.R. 1, refd to. [para. 14].

Syncrude Canada Ltd. et al. v. Hunter Engineering Co. and Allis-Chambers Canada Ltd. et al., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 426; 92 N.R. 1, refd to. [para. 14].

Becker v. Pettkus, [1980] 2 S.C.R. 834; 34 N.R. 384; 19 R.F.L.(2d) 165; 117 D.L.R. (3d) 257; 8 E.T.R. 143, refd to. [para. 15].

Horwitz v. Loyal Protective Insurance Co., [1932] O.R. 467, refd to. [paras. 26, 74].

National Union Fire Insurance Co. v. Re­no's Executive Air Inc. (1984), 100 Nev. 360, refd to. [para. 34].

Wigle et al. v. Allstate Insurance Co. of Canada (1984), 6 O.A.C. 161; 49 O.R.(2d) 101, leave to appeal refused [1985] 1 S.C.R. v; 59 N.R. 73; 8 O.A.C. 321, refd to. [para. 42].

Standard Life Insurance Co. v. Trudeau (1900), 31 S.C.R. 376, refd to. [para. 47].

Equitable Life Assurance Society of United States v. Weightman (1916), 160 P. 629, refd to. [para. 48].

Knights and Ladies of Honor v. Men­khausen (1904), 70 N.E. 567, refd to. [para. 50].

Stats v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co., [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1153; 22 N.R. 91, refd to. [para. 76].

Statutes Noticed:

Insurance Act, R.S.O. 1980, c. 218, sect. 171 [paras. 29, 71].

Married Woman's Property Act (U.K.), 1882, 45 & 46 Vict. c. 75, sect. 11 [paras. 10, 45].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Holz, Shannon G., Insurance Law: The Doctrine of Reasonable Expectations (1988), 37 Drake L. Rev. 741, p. 746 [para. 38].

Keeton, Robert, Insurance Law Rights at Variance with Policy Provisions (1970), 83 Harv. L. Rev. 961, p. 967 [para. 37].

Leitner, David L., Enforcing the Consum­er's Reasonable Expectations in Inter­preting Insurance Contracts: A Doctrine in Search of Coherent Definition (1988), 38 F.I.C.C. Quarterly 379, pp. 379, 380 [para. 35].

Scott, Austin Wakeman, The Law of Trusts (4th Ed. 1989), vol. 5, p. 495 [para. 52].

Youdan, T.G., Acquisitions of Property by Killing (1973), 89 L.Q. Rev. 235, pp. 257, 258 [para. 54].


Robert E. Barnes, Q.C., for the appellants;

John S. McNeil, Q.C., for the respondent.

Solicitors of Record:

Gignac, Sutts, Windsor, Ontario, for the appellants;

Fellowes, McNeil, Toronto, Ontario, for the respondent.

This appeal was heard on February 27, 1992, before La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, Stevenson and Iacobucci, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada. The decision of the court was delivered in both official languages on Oc­tober 29, 1992, including the following opinions:

Sopinka, J. (La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, and Iacobucci, JJ., concurring) - see paragraphs 1 to 18;

Cory, J., dissenting (Gonthier, J., con­curring) - see paragraphs 19 to 78.

Stevenson, J., took no part in the judg­ment.

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