Houchens v. American Home Assurance Co.

927 F.2d 163 (4th Cir. 1991)

Yeazell, pp. 43-47


Facts: Houchensís husband disappeared in Thailand and was never seen again.He had two life insurance policies, and Houchens wanted them paid out.The problem was that the policies required Mr. Houchens die in an accident in order to pay out.Houchens sued American Home Assurance for breach of contract, but AHA argued that there was no way to prove that Mr. Houchens died in an accident.


Procedural Posture: AHA got summary judgment from the district court.Houchens appealed to the Fourth Circuit.


Issue: Did the district court err in granting summary judgment to AHA?


Rule: Summary judgment shall be granted after discovery against a party that fails to show they could establish some essential element of their case which they have the burden to prove at trial.


Analysis: At trial, the burden would be on Mrs. Houchens to prove that Mr. Houchens is dead and that his death was an accident.


The court concedes that under Virginia law, Mr. Houchens is dead because heís been missing for over seven years.However, the court finds Mrs. Houchensís case for establishing his death as an accident to be inadequately thin.


Mrs. Houchens relies on three cases where people died under bizarre circumstances and were ruled dead by accident.The court distinguishes these cases by saying that there were no bizarre circumstances surrounding Mr. Houchensís death.In fact, there were no circumstances at all.Therefore, the court says that they cannot conclude that Mr. Houchens died accidentally.In fact, they say no jury could reasonably conclude he died accidentally.


Conclusion: The order of summary judgment of the district court is affirmed.


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