Estate of Villwock

In Estate of Villwock, 142 Wis. 2d 144, 418 N.W.2d 1, the issue was whether spouses died "otherwise than simultaneously" for purposes of application of the Act. The spouses in Villwock were killed in a head-on auto collision. The emergency medical technicians testified that the husband suffered cardiopulmonary failure five minutes before the wife while both were in an ambulance en route to the hospital. Once at the hospital, advanced CPR was given to both spouses and about an hour later a doctor pronounced the wife dead and then the husband ten minutes later. The doctor testified that the husband's cardiopulmonary failure in the ambulance was irreversible and that the husband therefore pre-deceased the wife, despite the times they were declared dead. The trial court concluded that the wife survived the husband and the husband's potential heirs appealed. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals noted that Wisconsin had adopted the UDDA but, like the instant case, it was only concerned with the first alternative under UDDA: "death is the irreversible failure of the cardiorespiratory system." 142 Wis. 2d at 147, 418 N.W.2d at 2. The court upheld the trial court's findings. This decision supports our view that UDDA is applicable for determining death for purposes of the Simultaneous Death Act. And, the Villwock decision reiterates that "death" under the first part of UDDA requires cessation of both breathing and heartbeat. In explaining that the determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards, the Villwock opinion quoted the following language from the prefatory note to the UDDA: "this Act is silent on acceptable diagnostic tests and medical procedures. It sets the general legal standard for determining death, but not the medical criteria for doing so." 142 Wis. 2d at 148, 418 N.W.2d at 3. This language indicates that, although there was expert medical witness testimony in Villwock, such expert testimony is not required.