Viewing Charles B. Elliott: "A Treatise on the Law of Insurance, Including Fire, Life, Accident, Casualty, Title, Credit and Guaranty Insurance in Every Form." (1902).
Charles Burke Elliott (1861-1935) served on the Minneapolis Municipal Court, 1891-1894, the Hennepin County District Court, 1894-1905, and the Minnesota Supreme Court, 1906-1909. During his years on the bench, he managed to write and publish articles and books on a wide-range of legal subjects. His treatise on insurance law was published in 1902 during his second term on the Fourth Judicial District Court.
Judge Elliott's book and John Wilder May's "The Law of Insurance as Applied to Fire, Life, Accident, Guaranty and Other Non Maritime Risks" were reviewed together by Mark Norris, a Grand Rapids practitioner, in the Michigan Law Review in November 1902. While Norris is exasperated by the courts' erratic constructions of insurance contracts, and is skeptical that any author can keep up with the mass of conflicting rulings, he nevertheless gives high grades to May and Elliott:
"To paraphrase a well known quotation, "Of the making of many books on Insurance there is no end and much study of some of them is a weariness to the flesh."
"The past ten years has afflicted the lawyers of the United States with seventeen octavo volumes of text book on this highly specialized subject, ten of which have appeared since 1897.
"Some of these volumes having apparently been made with a paste pot and a pair of shears, are of no use except as bad digests.
"Two octavo and five duodecimo volumes of digests are a further addition to the mass of insurance literature produced within the last five years.
"The vacillations and vagaries of the courts in deciding insurance cases are in the main responsible for this torrent of printer's ink. The effect of conflicting, illogical and ill-considered opinions has been the practical annihilation of the insurance policy as a written contract; and the substitution therefor, under the guise of "waivers and estoppels" of a verbal contract made by the assured after the loss.
"Where astuteness in construction and distinction could find no loophole to evade the written contract, plain refusal to enforce its terms has frequently been employed and this alike with the statutory standard policy and the older unilateral form.
"The net result is a mass of conflicting decisions which the Infinite Intelligence itself could not reconcile, while of the law of insurance as a general subject naught can certainly be said save that the last decision in each jurisdiction may be supposed to be the law until it is overruled and that the last decision will be overruled whenever the plaintiff's "equity" demands.
"The mass of late text works and digests on this subject is but the manifestation of the effort of an intelligent, hardworking profession to keep abreast with the courts.
"It is to be expected that the book mill will continue to grind its insurance grist until the doctrine of "stare decisis" is once more applied to insurance 1aw.
"Of the late works on this subject "May" and "Elliott" are, each in its sphere, of the best. May is the better for the general practitioner and the insurance lawyer; Elliott for the student.
"Perhaps more than any other, "May" deserves to be styled the standard American text work on non maritime insurance law. It first appeared in 1873 as a single volume. The edition of 1882, still one volume, presented the development of the subject as evidenced by two thousand additional cases. The edition of 1891, under the able editorship of Mr. Frank Parsons, doubled its size; while in the fourth edition Mr. Gould cites us to three thousand additional cases.
"For nearly thirty years the work has been well and favorably known. Originally prepared with great care by its able author, its subsequent editors by equal care, diligence and discrimination, in their additions to the text, and by adding a better index, chapter headings, and black letter catch heads, have largely increased the usefulness of the work to the busy lawyer. The practitioner who limits his library to a single work on each subject can have no more useful book
"Judge Elliott's work, while not claiming that distinction, in a sense may be said to be in its third edition, as it is evidently the outgrowth of his previous work, "Elliott's Insurance---An Outline with Cases," the second edition of which appeared in 1896 from the press of West Publishing Company. The present work contains large additions, on the standard policy, life, accident, indemnity, and the other common non maritime forms of insurance, making more than double the matter contained in the previous work. In condensing this broad subject within the limits of a single volume, the author necessarily has omitted many details and minor points of interest to the trial lawyer.
"The work has been done with judgment and discrimination in the selection of the cases cited and care in condensation and presentation. For the student, or the lawyer who wishes to refresh his recollection of general principles, this work is an excellent one.
"The difficulty of keeping up with the courts in insurance cases is well illustrated in several instances in this work. A single example must suffice. In section 183, page 152, Cleaver v. Traders' Insurance Co., 65 Mich. 527 (1887), is cited and quoted as to the binding effect of policy limitations on the power of agents. The doctrine of this case was adhered to by our supreme court for more than eleven years, and then, without so much as a reference to a dozen cases which had followed the Cleaver case, was suddenly overturned by the decision in Cronin v. Fire Association, 119 Mich. 74, (1898). The only court with Michigan in this ruling is Missouri. Judge Elliott has noted the Missouri rule but has failed to note the last Michigan case.
"Both these works deserve commendation as specimens of the printer's art.
"Mark Norris, Grand Rapids, Michigan."
(Posted MLHP: April 4, 2016).