Man declared dead is likely still alive, Quebec court reaffirms in appeal case

MONTREAL — A missing man is "almost certainly alive" after he was pronounced dead more than five years ago, Quebec's Court of Appeal reaffirmed in a recent decision.

The ruling represents the latest turn in a bewildering series of cases in which the family of Hooshang Imanpoorsaid wrangled with an insurance company over evidence of his survival. The legal squabble has meant that the former Quebec resident, missing for over a decade, has been considered alive, then dead, then alive again within the span of a few years.

Imanpoorsaid disappeared in 2008 after he said he would take a trip from Montreal to Toronto, according to court documents. But a police investigation revealed he had instead allegedly flown to Amsterdam. His disappearance led his family to discover he owed large sums of money to several lenders.

"I'm sorry for creating so much stress for you guys," Imanpoorsaid purportedly wrote in a cryptic email to his children the day after he left home, court documents say. "Things got out of hand and to fix it, drastic measures are necessary to be taken. That’s why I decided to do what I did."

A Quebec judge declared Imanpoorsaid dead in 2017 following a successful petition from his wife, Deborah Carol Riddle, over the objections of life insurance company Ivari. Court documents suggest that his death freed up a $500,000 payout for Riddle and their three children.

Ivari contested the court decision, presenting Iranian government documents, including census and passport office records, that the company said proved Imanpoorsaid was alive and living in the Middle East country, where he was born. In response, a Quebec Superior Court judge overturned the death declaration in 2021.

Riddle appealed the lower court decision, casting doubt on the validity of the insurance company's evidence. She argued that under Quebec law, her husband would have to "return physically" in order to be declared alive.

But a panel of three Court of Appeal judges rejected her arguments in a decision rendered last week, writing that "Ivari's evidence is strong and demonstrates that (Imanpoorsaid) is almost certainly alive."

In a 3-0 decision, the judges declared that Riddle's claim – that a person declared deceased would need to physically return to be pronounced alive – would "open the door to situations that are absurd and contrary to common sense."

Riddle's lawyer, Benjamin Dionne, and his firm, Dentons Canada, declined to comment on this story.

But Erik Knutsen, a professor who studies insurance law at Queen's University, in Kingston, Ont., says this case stands out among insurance-related feuds in Canada.

"It's something I have never seen before," Knutsen said in a phone interview.

He added he was impressed by Ivari's ability to find substantial evidence that Imanpoorsaid was alive in Iran, adding that the company possibly used detectives.

"It's an odd circumstance for someone to be declared dead and an insurer to provide evidence to overturn it," Knutsen said. "I have never heard of an insurer going to this length."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press