Indiana High Court Allows Wrongful Death Claim to Continue After Death of Victim’s Spouse

Indiana wrongful death claims are meant to compensate the accident victim’s spouse and dependents after their wrongful death. So, what happens if the decedent’s spouse and dependents are no longer alive by the time the case goes to trial? The Indiana Supreme Court took up the issue in a recent case.

The Facts

According to the court’s written opinion, a husband filed a claim after his wife died from complications during surgery and throughout her subsequent dialysis treatments. The husband brought a negligence claim against his wife’s surgeon, the hospital, and the dialysis treatment center, seeking damages for her death under Indiana’s wrongful death statute. The plaintiff sought damages for two general categories: “final-expense damages” and “survivor damages.” Final-expense damages included the medical, funeral, and burial expenses, and survivor damages were claimed for the loss of consortium, including loss of income, loss of employment benefits, and loss of companionship. However, the husband died while the case was still being decided. He did not leave a will and there were no apparent heirs to his estate, so the estate reverted to the state of Indiana.

The defendants argued that because the husband died, there could be no award of survivor damages, because there was no evidence to support a loss of consortium claim. They claimed that because the husband did not have any heirs, any survivor damages would pass to the state, which contradicts the purpose of a compensatory damages award for wrongful death claims.

Indiana’s Wrongful Death Statute

Under Indiana’s wrongful death statute, a plaintiff can bring a claim for the wrongful death of certain persons if the victim could have filed the claim herself had she lived. Damages under the wrongful death statute, referred to as final-expense damages, include “medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses,” which can be recovered by the decedent’s estate. Additional damages, including survivor damages, can be recovered by the decedent’s spouse as well as any dependents.

Wrongful Death Claims After the Plaintiff’s Death

Under Indiana law, if a party dies, the claim can be brought by or against the party’s representative. In this case, the Indiana Supreme Court explained that a claim for survivor damages does not abate due to the death of the decedent’s spouse. The defendants argued that the purpose of the wrongful death statute was meant to compensate spouses and dependents, and that if the decedent’s spouse and dependents will not be directly compensated, a damages award becomes punitive rather than compensatory. The court noted that the losses suffered may be borne by the spouse’s heirs, and that even in the absence of heirs, as in this case, it would not create an exception because the statute does not provide for one.

Contact an Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured due to a case of Indiana medical malpractice, contact the injury attorneys at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse LLP. We are a nationally acclaimed personal injury law firm with a proven record of success. Our goal is to provide you with the aggressive legal representation to allow you to maximize your compensation in order for you to move forward with your life. Our seasoned trial attorneys will be with you every step of the way. Fill out a free case evaluation form online, or call us today at 888-532-7766.

Related Posts:

Assumption of the Risk in Indiana Personal Injury Cases, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, February 12, 2019

Indiana’s Attractive Nuisance Doctrine, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2019