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Hewitt v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
490 F. Supp. 1358 (1980)
In 1966, John Hewitt married Barbara Ann Cullum. The couple lived together in both Texas and Maryland. In 1969, John left Barbara and married Nancy Anne Threatt Hewitt (plaintiff), who believed that John’s previous marriage was dissolved. In 1973, John and Barbara spoke about obtaining a divorce. According to Barbara, she met with a lawyer and sent John the necessary paperwork, but he never returned the documents. In 1977, John and Nancy were living in Virginia when John was killed in an automobile accident. After John’s death, Barbara applied to the Social Security Administration (administration) to receive John’s social-security benefits. The administration found no existence of a divorce decree between Barbara and John and awarded the benefits to Barbara. After John’s death, Nancy and the administrator of John’s estate, Jerome L. Lonnes (plaintiff) sued Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (defendant) for its role in the accident and received $400,000 in settlement funds. However, the court became aware that two women, both of whom had children with John, claimed to be John’s surviving spouse. A hearing was held to determine who was the surviving spouse under Virginia’s Death by Wrongful Act statute. Barbara testified that John had never obtained the divorce decree, but she was unable to corroborate her testimony with the name of the lawyer she consulted or with copies of the documents she received. Barbara also argued that John could not have obtained a divorce between the time he left her and when he married Nancy. Additionally, Barbara tried to use the fact that the administration was unable to find any divorce decree as evidence that no divorce was obtained, but the evidence was inadmissible for failure to adhere to the rules of evidence.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Warriner, J.)
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