18 January 2021

Woman declared dead in 2017 still fighting to prove she’s alive

18 January 2021

A French woman has been trying for three years to prove she is alive after being declared dead amid a legal dispute in 2017.

Jeanne Pouchain, 58, says she lives in constant fear, not daring to leave her house in the village of Saint Joseph, in the Loire region.

Authorities seized her car over an unpaid debt she contests and which is at the centre of her troubles, and she fears the family furniture will be next.

I no longer exist. I don’t do anything... I sit on the veranda and write

Ms Pouchain’s status has prevented her and her husband, who is her legal beneficiary along with her son, from using their joint bank account, and being declared dead has deprived her of other critical amenities.

“I no longer exist,” she said. “I don’t do anything… I sit on the veranda and write.”

Her status as deceased is the result of a 2017 Lyon court decision that deemed her dead even though no death certificate was produced.

The decision came at the end of a legal dispute with an employee of her former cleaning company, who was seeking compensation after losing her job 20 years ago.

The initial complaint in France’s Prudhomme workers’ court misfired, falling on Ms Pouchain, whose lawyer claims her company had no responsibility for the dismissal.

A series of legal proceedings, decisions and appeals followed, all the way to the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court, which dismissed the case as outside its domain, said Ms Pouchain and her lawyer, Sylvain Cormier.

When an error is so enormous, it’s hard to admit

They said snowballing judicial errors ended with the 2017 ruling by the Appeals Court of Lyon that Ms Pouchain was not among the living. The case is all the stranger because neither she nor her relatives received a summons for the hearing, she said.

Ms Pouchain’s husband and son were left with an order to pay 14,000 euros (£12,000) to the former employee.

Mr Cormier filed an unusual motion last Monday to invalidate the 2017 decision by the Lyon appeals court due to a “grave error” by the judges. He said he has never before dealt with such a “crazy” case.

“At first, I had a hard time believing my client,” he said.

Ms Pouchain says she cannot forgive her ex-employee for her plight but will not identify the woman.

Mr Cormier points the finger at the judges and their “extreme reticence to repair their error”.

“When an error is so enormous, it’s hard to admit,” he said.

Ms Pouchain remains stubbornly hopeful that her lawyer’s bid to overturn the judgment will succeed, adding: “It’s my last chance to recover my life.”

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