On June 4, 1953, the accused, a fraternal benefit association issued a certificate of membership in the amount of $4,000 to a postal clerk member of the New York Branch of the Association. While alive, he is entitled to participate in the benefits of the Benefit Fund in case he sustained various bodily injuriesthrough external violent and accidental means. The injuries should not be the result of his own vicious or intemperate conduct because it would wholly and continuously disable him from performing the duties of a Postal Transportation Clerk. If death shall result from such injuries alone within one year from the date of the injury, the Association will pay $4,000 to his step-daughter.
On March 31, 1962, while the contract was in force and effect, the postal clerk died. He was then 80 years of age and a patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in New York. He had been confined for approximately 22 months prior to his death. Following notification of death and submission of proof by his stepdaughter and a refusal by the association to pay the benefit, the instant action was commenced. The association at trial conceded the existence of the contract and the status of postal clerk as its beneficiary. It denied and contested however the accidental death as defined in the policy.
Thus, the sole issue tried was whether or not the postal clerk’s death was caused by an accident within the meaning of the policy. The stepdaughter’s proof consisted of a death certificate and the testimony of a medical doctor. The death certificate issued by the Office of Vital Records of the Department of Health revealed that after an autopsy was performed, it was found out that the cause of death was Cerebral Arteriosclerosis caused by accidentally swallowing of sock. It was offered in evidence by the complainant to establish the cause of death of the postal clerk. In view of the association’s objection to accept the death certificate in evidence for such purpose, it was accepted by the Court only to establish the fact of death. A decision was reserved on its admissibility to show the cause of death. The medical doctor who testified had 36 years of practice and estimated treating about a thousand cases of cerebral arteriosclerosis during his career. He did not testify to treating the postal clerk during his lifetime or attending him at the time of his death or thereafter. However, the doctor stated that the death caused by suffocation due to the presence of a sock in a man’s pharynx is considered death by external and violent means.