'Missing person's death date is day court declares so'

Written By Unknown on Senin, 16 Desember 2013 | 22.23

How is the date of presumed death to be reckoned in case of a missing person

Background: Legal heirs or beneficiaries are entitled to claim a deceased person's property. But what happens when a person goes missing and remains untraceable? When and how do the legal heirs claim the property?

Case Study: Jeet Singh did not return home from office on October 10, 2001. His wife, Raj Bala, lodged a police complaint stating that her husband had been kidnapped. The police registered an FIR on November 3, 2001.

Singh had taken two insurance policies from LIC on January 20, 1999. One policy was for a sum insured of Rs 50,000, while the other was for Rs 2,00,000. Bala informed the insurance company that her husband had been kidnapped and was missing. However, the insurance company did not respond. Meanwhile, Bala continued paying the premium for the policies. The premium for one policy was paid till January 13, 2007, while for the other till January 26, 2008.

On May 9, 2009, Bala filed a suit before the civil judge, Sonepat, for a declaration that her husband is dead and decree. The court passed an order May 21, 2010, declaring Singh to be dead and also issued a death certificate. Bala asked the insurance firm to settle the policy claims. The company sent a cheque of Rs 10,000, which Bala refused to accept. She filed a complaint before the district forum making a grievance about the insurance company asking her to keep paying the premium to keep the police alive.

The dispute was whether Singh should be considered to be dead on October 10, 2001, when he went missing, or when the court pronounced him dead in its order on May 21, 2010.

The forum held that both the policies had lapsed and directed the company to pay their paid up values. Bala's appeal to the Haryana state commission was also dismissed. She then filed a revision before the national commission.

She argued that even the district court had held that her husband was missing from October 10, 2001, and had declared him dead as per the court's May 2012 decree. She contended that the date of her husband's death should be considered to be October 10, 2001. She said there was no unpaid premium as on October 10, 2001, so she should get the entire sum insured rather than just the paid up value.

The insurance firm argued that the date of death would be considered as May 21, 2010, when the court pronounced its order declaring Singh to be dead. As the policies were lapsed May 21, 2010, the company argued that Bala was entitled to get only the paid up value.

The national commission observed that the law about presumption of death is governed by sections 107 and 108 of the Evidence Act, which has been interpreted by the Supreme Court, in LIC v/s Anuradha [(2004) 10 SCC 131]. The law provides that if a missing person remains unheard of for seven years, a presumption that he is dead can be raised in appropriate proceedings before a court. There cannot be any evidence about the actual date, time and place of his death.

The national commission held that the presumption of Singh's death could be reckoned from the date when the civil court passed its decree declaring him to be dead, or at the most when the suit for such declaration was instituted. The actual date when Singh went missing would not be irrelevant as the exact date and time of his death cannot be established. Since the policies were in lapsed condition before the declaratory proceedings were filed, the commission held that Bala would not be entitled to get the sum insured, but would only get the paid up value. Concurring with the district forum's order, the national commission dismissed Bala's revision. (Judgement dated November 19, 2013, by a bench of Justice K S Chaudhari and Dr B C Gupta in R P 1380 of 2012).

Conclusion: Although Bala kept paying the premium for several years after her husband went missing, she could not get the benefits under the policy as she did not continue paying it till the court declared her husband to be dead. The date of death for missing persons should, therefore, be considered to be the date when the court pronounces him to be presumed dead.

(The author is a consumer activist and has won the government of India's National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His e-mail is jehangir.gai.articles@hotmail.com)

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