French woman, declared dead, fights to prove she's alive

Reports of Mrs Jeanne Pouchain's death had been greatly exaggerated.
Reports of Mrs Jeanne Pouchain's death had been greatly exaggerated.PHOTO: AFP

SAINT-JOSEPH, FRANCE (AFP) - A 58-year-old French woman who was wrongfully declared dead in a long-running dispute with a former employee goes to court on Monday (Jan 11) in the city of Lyon to try resurrect her existence.

Reports of Mrs Jeanne Pouchain's death have been greatly exaggerated as AFP discovered when it met her at her home in the southeastern town of Saint-Joseph, near Lyon, recently.

Mrs Pouchain has been trying to prove she's alive ever since a labour court, allegedly acting on information provided by a former employee of Mrs Pouchain's cleaning company, noted her down in November 2017 as dead.

The ruling, which capped a nearly two-decade-long wrongful dismissal suit, turned Mrs Pouchain's life upside down.

Wiped from official records, she lost her ID card, driver's licence, bank account and health insurance.

She accuses her former employee of fabricating her death to try to win damages from her purported heirs - her husband and son - after two failed attempts to sue Mrs Pouchain herself.

"It's a crazy story," Mrs Pouchain's lawyer, Mr Sylvain Cormier, told AFP.

"The plaintiff claimed that Mrs Pouchain was dead, without providing any proof, and everyone believed her. No-one checked," he added.

Her former employee was not available for comment.

The woman took a case against Mrs Pouchain after losing her job with Mrs Pouchain's cleaning company when it lost a big contract in 2000.

In 2004, a labour tribunal ordered Mrs Pouchain to pay the woman over €14,000  (S$22,600) in damages, but because the case had been taken against her company and not Mrs Pouchain herself, the ruling was never enforced.

In 2009, the woman took a case against Mrs Pouchain directly, but that case was thrown out, only to return in 2016 before an appeals court, which, believing Mrs Pouchain to be dead, ordered her husband and son to pay damages.

A lawyer for Mrs Pouchain's former employee has accused her of having a hand in her own demise, saying she played dead to try avoid litigation by, for example, refusing to answer correspondence.

Mrs Pouchain, who is seeking to have the court declaration of her death declared a fake, has denied those accusations.

She described her life as being in limbo.

"State agencies tell me I am no longer dead, but that I am not yet alive. I'm in the making!" she told AFP.