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Janus v. Tarasewicz

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff, insured’s mother, appeals from a declaratory judgment wherein the trial court found there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the primary beneficiary under the insured’s life insurance policy, survived the insured, and therefore was entitled to the proceeds of the life insurance policy.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Survivorship is a fact that must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence by the party’s whose claim depends on survivorship.

    Facts. On September 29, 1982, husband and wife, Stanley and Theresa Janus, decedents, unknowingly ingested cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. Shortly afterwards Stanley collapsed on the floor. Theresa was still standing when a nurse came to the scene and began performing CPR on Stanley. Minutes later, at approximately 5:45pm, paramedic Ronald Mahon arrived and saw Theresa faint and go into seizures. She was breathing on her own but her pupils didn’t respond to light. In a paramedic’s report Mahon wrote that at approximately 6:00pm Stanley had “zero blood pressure, zero pulse and zero respiration.” Paramedic Robert Lockhart arrived at 5:55pm and both Stanley and Theresa were unconscious with non-reactive pupils. Lockhart intubated both of them and in order to keep their air passages open. Neither Stanley nor Theresa showed signs of being able to breathe on their own while being transported to the hospital. However, Lockhart stated that when Theresa had a palpable pulse and blood
    pressure when she was turned over to hospital personnel. At approximately 6:30pm the medical director of the intensive care unit at the hospital examined them and Stanley had no blood pressure or pulse. Due to the fact Stanley never developed spontaneous blood pressure, pulse or signs of respiration, he was pronounced dead at 8:15pm on September 29, 1982. Upon admittance to the hospital, Theresa showed no visible vital signs but hospital personnel were able to get her heart beating on its own again and were able to establish a measurable, but unsatisfactory, blood pressure. In the medical director’s opinion, Theresa was in a deep coma with very unstable vital signs when she was moved to the intensive care unit at 9:30pm on September 29, 1982. On September 30, 1982, various tests were performed on Theresa to assess her brain function and as a result of these tests, she was diagnosed as having sustained total brain death, her life support systems were then terminated, and she was
    pronounced dead at 1:15pm on October 1, 1982. More than three weeks later death certificates were issued by the a medical examiner’s physician who never examined them but listed Stanley’s date of death as September 29, 1982 and Theresa’s date of death as October 1, 1982. Theresa was the primary beneficiary under Stanley’s life insurance policy and after concluding that Theresa survived Stanley, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company paid the proceeds of Stanley’s $100,000 life insurance policy to the administrator of Theresa’s estate. Stanley’s mother Alojza Janus, plaintiff, brought a declaratory judgment action against the insurance company and the administrators of Stanley and Theresa’s estates, claiming the proceeds of the insurance policy as the contingent beneficiary of the policy. The trial court heard testimony from several expert witness and concluded that Theresa survived Stanley but the court did say by how long she survived him. Plaintiff appeals, contending there’s
    insufficient evidence to prove that both victims did not suffer brain death prior to their arrival at the hospital on September 29, 1982.

    Issue. Whether the trial court’s finding that Theresa Janus survived Stanley Janus was against the manifest weight of the evidence?

    Held. No. Affirmed.
    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. It was not necessary to determine by how long Theresa survived Stanley. After viewing the record in its entirety, the trial court’s finding of sufficient evidence of Theresa’s survivorship was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.


    Discussion. In Illinois, if the title to property depends on the priority of death and there’s no sufficient evidence that the persons have died otherwise than simultaneously and there are no other provisions in testamentary or other governing instruments for distribution of the property, the property of each person shall be disposed of as if he had survived.


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