Law School Case Brief
Janus v. Tarasewicz - 135 Ill. App. 3d 936, 90 Ill. Dec. 599, 482 N.E.2d 418
Survivorship is a fact that must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence by the party whose claim depends on survivorship. The Illinois version of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act provides, in part: If the title to property or its devolution depends upon priority of death and there is no sufficient evidence that the persons have died otherwise than simultaneously and there is no other provision in the will, trust agreement, deed, contract of insurance or other governing instrument for distribution of the property different from the provisions of this Section: (a) The property of each person shall be disposed of as if he had survived; (d) If the insured and the beneficiary of a policy of life or accident insurance have so died, the proceeds of the policy shall be distributed as if the insured had survived the beneficiary. Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 110 1/2, para. 3-1 (1981).
In cases where the question of survivorship is determined by the testimony of witnesses, the burden of sufficient evidence may be met by evidence of a positive sign of life in one body and the absence of any such sign in the other. In cases where the death process is monitored by medical professionals, their testimony as to the usual and customary standards of medical practice will be relevant when considering what constitutes a positive sign of life and what constitutes a criteria for determining death.
The mother's son, Stanley, and the father's daughter, Theresa, who were husband and wife, ingested cyanide-laced aspirin capsules. Stanley died shortly after he was admitted to the hospital. Theresa survived on life support systems for two days before she was pronounced dead. Theresa was the primary beneficiary of her husband's, Stanley's, life insurance policy while Stanley's mother was the contingent beneficiary. The insurer paid the proceeds of the policy to Jan Tarasewicz, Theresa's father, as the administrator of his daughter's estate. Plaintiff Alojza Janus, Stanley's mother, filed an action contending that there was no evidence that the Theresa survived Stanley and that she, Stanley's mother, was therefore entitled to the proceeds of the policy as the contingent beneficiary. The circuit court found otherwise and entered judgment in favor of the father. The mother and the administrator of the son's estate appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding sufficient evidence that Theresa survived her husband, Stanley?
The court affirmed, holding that the evidence supported the circuit court's determination that Stanley predeceased Theresa and, accordingly, that Theresa's estate was entitled to the proceeds of the policy. The court found that the medical evidence demonstrated that the daughter exhibited positive signs of life after the son ceased showing such signs.
The court believed that the record clearly established that the treating physicians' diagnoses of death with respect to Stanley and Theresa Janus were made in accordance with "the usual and customary standards of medical practice
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