Janus v. Tarasewicz

The Facts

  • Stanley and Theresa Janus died after ingesting Tylenol laced with cyanide by some unknown perpetrator.
  • Stanley collapsed on kitchen floor shortly after taking pills.
  • Theresa was still standing when a RN was called to the scene.
  • Theresa soon began having seizures.
  • Stanley’s pulse was weak and CPR was administered.
  • RN believed both Stanley and Theresa died before being taken to the ambulance, but could not tell who died first.
  • Paramedic arrived in time to see Theresa faint and go into a seizure.
  • She was still breathing on her own.
  • Stanley’s vital signs disappeared en route to hospital.
  • Theresa still had a palpable pulse and blood pressure when she was turned over to hospital personnel
  • Stanley was pronounced dead at 8:15 p.m.
  • Theresa had “very unstable vital signs” and was moved to ICU at 9:30 p.m.
  • Stanley was pronounced dead shortly after he was admitted to the hospital
  • Theresa was placed on life support for almost 2 days before being pronounced dead
  • Theresa was the primary beneficiary of Stanley’s $100,000 life insurance policy.
  • D (life insurance company) paid proceeds of policy to Jan Taraseqicz, Theresa’s father and the administrator of her estate.

Procedural History

  • Stanley’s mother (Alojza) brought this action claiming there was not sufficient evidence that Theresa survived her husband and is seeking the proceeds that names Alojza contingent beneficiary after Theresa.
  • TC found sufficient evidence that Theresa survived Stanley (though could not say by how long) and found for D.

The Issue

  • Whether there was sufficient evidence that Theresa survived her husband (Was TC’s finding against the manifest weight of the evidence?)

The Holding/Disposition

  • Yes, found sufficient evidence Theresa survived Stanley
  • No, TC judgment affirmed

Court’s Reasoning

  • One is legally dead on the date they are medically determined to have sustained total brain death, rather than on the date the heart stops functioning.
  • Survivorship is a fact that must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence by the party whose claim depends on survivorship.
  • Efforts to preserve Theresa’s life continued after more intensive efforts on Stanley’s behalf had failed
  • Dr. said her condition in the emergency room did not warrant a diagnosis of brain death
  • Treatments and diagnoses were made within the “usual and customary standards of medical practice”
  • Not necessary to determine the exact moment at which Theresa died

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