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Dead Man Litigating – Can the Law Bring You Back From the Dead?

This seems like an appropriate time of year to talk about Donald Miller, Jr., a 61 year old man who came back from being “dead” and went to court to have his “deceased” status overturned, but instead was turned down.

The man being told by a judge that he’s still dead sounds like a Monty Python sketch, and instantly made the case a goldmine for late-night comics. I can’t do better than John Oliver, who ranted on his podcast, The Bugle,

“Who the &%&* was his lawyer? How do you lose this case? It’s as simple as saying, ‘Your Honor, the defense calls to the stand the defendant, yes, there he is. I rest my case. Are we done here?’”

Oliver and his cohort, Andy Zaltzman, went on taking funny (and cheap) shots at the “intransigence” of the American judicial system.

And yup, when you first hear it, it’s surreal all right, and your first instinct is to shake your head and mutter something about how the legal system lacks any common sense. But then you read on a little more, and the decision not only seems inevitable, but is actually a great example of how the law is designed to navigate through even the oddest of situations (and they don’t come much odder than this) while providing a sense of stability and order to society and other involved parties.

The “resurrected” man was Donald Miller, Jr. from Ohio, who disappeared in the 1980s without warning or a trace, and was subsequently declared dead in 1994, some eight years after he vanished. In 2005, he apparently got tired of being deceased and decided to return to the land of the living. Or maybe he binge-watched episodes of The Walking Dead and decided it would be cool to be “undead.” Whatever. In any case, Donald went to court about eight years ago to be declared alive, and it took until this October for his status to be resolved. It probably would’ve been faster to go on that Howie Mandel TV show, “Dead or No Dead.”

For one thing, Donald had a wife, Robin (who he didn’t think to mention to that he was going to go off the grid for several years, because owing her lots of child support was a chief reason he went “grid-less.”), who wanted him to stay “dead.” At least legally. In the ensuing years she had received Social Security and support for their two children on account of his demise, and Robin was afraid that if he were to be resurrected in the eyes of the law, not only would the payments stop, but she might be required to return the money that had long since been spent.

There were other considerations which didn’t apply in this case, but could have: Robin hadn’t remarried, but if she had, as far as the law was concerned, she’d now be a bigamist. If Donald had left an inheritance, he could try to reclaim it. He could file for government benefits for his “dead” time. And on and on.

So Hancock County Probate Court Judge Allan Davis, acknowledging it was a “strange, strange situation” (to say the least) consigned Miller to eternal death, citing a three-year time limit for changing a death ruling.

Davis said, “We’ve got the obvious here. A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health,” adding, “I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned.”

One online commentator suggested Miller take up a new career, robbing banks, since a “dead man can’t be charged with committing a crime.”

Somehow, I imagine, the law has this covered, too.

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One Comment

  1. jhonson says:

    Law can’t bring back that dead man.