January 30th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Polson and Fallis v. Farmers Insurance Company (No. 99,908), a case covering insurance benefits of deceased persons and their estates. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Luckert, the Court affirmed a summary judgment issued by the District Court in favor of the insurance company. The Court determined that the provisions of the Kansas Uniform Simultaneous Death Act (KUSDA) do not override those of the Kansas Automobile Injury Reparations Act (KAIRA), and that in any case if they did they could not be construed to allow the estates of two people who died simultaneously to receive the survivors benefits from an insurance policyeach person would have received had they lived.
Timothy and Michelle Polson, married but with no children, were killed in a car accident. There is no evidence to suggest either of them survived the other: both were pronounced dead at the scene. Their car insurance policy contained a clause as mandated under the KAIRA that survivors benefits be paid to a spouse or children in the event of death. Michelle and Timothy’s parents (John Polson, Pauline Fallis) each applied to Farmers Insurance Company for the $10,800 in survivors benefits. Farmers refused the claim on the grounds that neither parent was part of the qualified survivor classes (spouse or child). Polson and Fallis sued, seeking summary judgment and attorney’s fees, arguing that each of their children would have been entitled to the other’s survivor benefits and that the benefit should be incorporated into their estates. Farmers’ sought and received summary judgment against this. Polson and Fallis appealed. Their core legal theory is that because the KUSDA states that where death order cannot be ascertained each individual is held to have predeceased the other, each in turn for the purposes of survivors benefits should be seen as surviving the other.
In affirming the District Court the Kansas Supreme Court makes several rulings of note. First, it holds that the KUSDA as a statute of general application does not overrule the language in the subject-specific KAIRA which states that to claim survivors benefits the claimant must establish that they survived. Secondly it holds that in a case like this the automatic presumption under the KUSDA of each person predeceasing the other does not create an equivalent assumption of survival in situations where survival is the factor in the law. Thirdly, the Court rules that in any case survivors benefits on an insurance policy do not match any of the categories of property that the KUSDA is narrowly defined to apply to, since they are non-transferable.
The Court also rejected Polson and Fallis’ application for attorney fees which are required under Kansas law when an insurance company loses a case, since in this one Farmers prevailed.