Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Alice Houchens is trying to collect upon two life insurance policies issued by Defendant American Home Insurance Co. on her husband, Coulter Houchens, who disappeared in 1980.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Upon a motion for summary judgment by the Defendant, the Plaintiff has the burden of establishing facts showing the existence of an element essential to the Plaintiff’s case in order to survive the motion.
Issue. Whether evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, permitting inferences showing equal support for the conclusions of both parties, is sufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment.
Held. No. The order of the District Court was affirmed. A beneficiary who makes a death claim under an accident policy has the burden of proving the insured’s death was caused by violent, external and accidental means. Therefore the burden was on Plaintiff to prove that her husband died by accidental means. Where inferences show equal support for opposing conclusions, the Court cannot conclude that there is a greater probability that the death was caused by accident than by other means. A District Court does not err in granting summary judgment where a jury could not reasonably conclude that it is more likely than not that the Plaintiff can prove the elements of his claim.
Discussion. Summary judgment is mandated against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 1986. Plaintiff asserted that the presumption that Mr. Houchens is dead translates into the presumption that he died accidentally. However, the Court concluded that where there is only evidence of a disappearance, to conclude that death is accidental would be to pile inferences on inferences.