The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act § 5 (1953) states that if there is not sufficient evidence to determine the order of the deaths the insured is deemed to have survived the beneficiary. Maryland’s Simultaneous Death Act is codified in Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code §§ 10-801-10-807 (2006). It follows the 1953 uniform pattern. For example, § 10-804 states that where the insured and the beneficiary have died and there is no sufficient evidence that they died other than simultaneously, the proceeds of that policy shall be distributed as if the insured survived the beneficiary.
This was the statute interpreted in Janus v. Tarasewicz, 482 N.E.2d. 418 (Ill. 1985). A newly-wed husband and wife cut short their honeymoon to mourn the death of the husband’s brother. They all assembled at the brother’s home. The newlyweds each took Tylenol, unaware that the Tylenol was cyanide-laced and, in fact, caused the brother’s death. Both collapsed.
When the paramedics arrived both victims were unconscious with non-reactive pupils. Both were rushed to the hospital and neither showed any signs of being able to breathe on their own. The medical director pronounced the husband dead in the emergency room. The hospital personnel, however, were able to get the wife’s heart beating on its own so the hospital personnel keep working on the wife in intensive care. The wife was pronounced dead several days thereafter.
The essence of the case was whether both had died as a result of a Tylenol simultaneously and it was only the intervention by medical life and support systems that enabled one to outlive the other. Both the trial court and appellate court looked to the medical profession for the factual determination of death:
“In cases such as the instant case where the death process is monitored by medical professionals, their testimony as to ‘the usual and customary standards of the medical practice’ will be highly relevant when considering what constitutes a positive sign of life and what constitutes a criteria for determining death…Although the use of medical technology can also make it difficult to determine when death occurs, the context of this case does not require a determination as to the exact moment as which the decedents died. Rather, the Trial Court’s task was to determine whether or not there was sufficient evidence that Teresa Janus survived her husband.[W]e believe that the record clearly established that the treating physicians’ diagnoses with respect to Stanley and Teresa Janus were made in accordance with the ‘usual and customary standards of medical practice.’ Stanley Janus was diagnosed as having sustained irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions on September 29, 1982. These same physicians concluded that Teresa Janus’ condition on that date did not warrant a diagnosis of death and, therefore, they continued their efforts to preserve her life.”
Tarasewicz, 482 N.E.2d. at 424. Other cases have wrestled with the issue of whether or not deaths were simultaneous. In re Estate of Campbell, 641 P.2d. 610 (Or. 1982), evidence of who was the better swimmer in a boating accident where both deaths were by drowning was held insufficient to establish one’s survivorship over the other. In an airplane crash, on the other hand, a wife’s autopsy showed her brain was intact with carbon monoxide in her blood stream while her husband’s brain was crushed with no carbon monoxide in his blood stream. The New York Surrogate’s Court held that such evidence proved that the wife survived her husband. In re Estate of Bucci, 293 N.Y.S.2d. 994 (N.Y. Surr. Ct.1968). The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act § 2 (1993) states that “an individual who is not established by clear and convincing evidence to have survived the other individual by 120 hours is deemed to have predeceased the other individual.” This is to short circuit the close-case scenarios.