SSR 65-50: SECTIONS 202(d); 202(g); and 205(a). -- FACT AND DATE OF DEATH -- BODY NOT RECOVERED
20 CFR 404.704
- Where a worker was last seen driving toward and within a few hundred yards of his dynamite magazine which shortly thereafter was totally destroyed by a blast of such nature as would disintegrate everything in its path, and where a thorough investigation revealed no trace of his person and no reason to suspect a planned disappearance, held, the worker's death is determined to have occurred on the day he disappeared.
R, a self-employed dealer in explosives, was last seen on April 24, 1964. During that day he was seen by several persons driving a truck in the vicinity of his dynamite magazine. Early in the afternoon and within a few minutes after R was last seen and recognized by a friend to whom he had waved while driving toward and within a few hundred yards of the magazine, an explosion completely demolished the dynamite magazine leaving a hole 10 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter. Parts of the truck R had been driving were found half a mile away. However, no trace of R's body, clothing, or effects was ever found. On June 15, 1964, applications were filed by W for mother's insurance benefits and for child's insurance benefits on behalf of C, R's minor child. All requirements for such benefits were established other than the fact and date of R's death.
W alleged that R died in the explosion of his dynamite magazine. She submitted a State probate court order decreeing the presumed death of R as of April 24, 1964, the date of his disappearance. A report of the investigation made by the State police detailed the unsuccessful search efforts to find any trace of R's body or any of his personal effects in the debris such as his clothing, watch, belt buckle, or shoes, or any evidence indicating that he might still be alive. Although R carried no life insurance because of the high premium rate due to the hazardous nature of his work, he had purchased a life insurance policy for C. Premiums on this policy were waived by the insurance company since the date of R's disappearance.
In the course of the investigation, witnesses testified that over four tons of dynamite and caps had been stored together in R's shed. He was known to be somewhat careless in his storage practices and to disregard certain safety measures. The testimony of technical experts indicated further that the manner in which the explosives were stored contributed to a "shaped charge" blast effect which intensified the force of the explosion. Under such conditions the intense heat and blast would be sufficient to disintegrate everything in its path. No evidence was found to indicate that R may have planned his disappearance. He had taken nothing unusual from home, e.g., clothing or money, nor had he withdrawn an unusual amount of funds from his bank account on the last day he was seen or for some time prior thereto although he had $2,000 in a bank account. He had followed his usual routine, had no pressing debts, health problems, or domestic difficulties.
Section 404.704 of the Social Security Administration Regulations No. 4 (20 CFR 404.704) provides in pertinent part that:
- An applicant for monthly benefits or a lump-sum death payment based upon the earnings of a deceased individual shall file supporting evidence as to the death of such individual and as to the time and place of such death. * * *
W has submitted all the evidence which is available to her regarding the circumstances of her husband's disappearance. The court order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction after considering all the facts decreed the presumed death of R, which though not controlling on the Administration, must be given substantial weight since corroborated by all other available evidence. The additional factors considered and leading to the conclusion that R is dead were: the police report and findings, the results of investigations by insurance companies, the statements of family members and other persons having knowledge of the circumstances surrounding R's disappearance, the absence of any tangible evidence that R's disappearance may have been falsified, and the inherent probability of death suggested by the very circumstances of the case. See Friedman v. United States, 186 F. Supp. 139 (D. Ark. 1960).
Specifically, it appears logical and reasonable to conclude that R was actually at the site of his dynamite magazine when it exploded. He was seen and recognized by a friend shortly before the explosion as he drove his truck toward and to within a short distance of the magazine. The facts thus clearly placed R in a position of imminent danger. Nothing has been found subsequently to indicate that he was not actually a victim of the explosion. The testimony by technical experts as to the blast characteristics of dynamite and its probable effect in this instance outweigh the absence of tangible evidence of death. Accordingly, it is held that the evidence is sufficient to establish that R was killed in the explosion of his dynamite magazine on April 24, 1964, and that W and C are entitled to mother's and child's insurance benefits, respectively, based upon R's social security earnings account.