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COA panels divided on attorney's fees under AWDA

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Nearly a month after an Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled attorney's fees aren’t recoverable under the Adult Wrongful Death Act in a matter of first impression, another panel unanimously ruled they are recoverable.

A split court ruled July 20 in Jeffery H. McCabe, As Representative of the Estate of Jean Francis McCabe, Decedent v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Insurance as Administrator of the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, No. 49A02-0908-CV-728, that the “may include but are not limited to” language in the Adult Wrongful Death Act doesn’t allow for attorney’s fees. The majority ruled such a result would similarly “expand the circumscribed damages defined by the general assembly.” They relied on Butler v. Ind. Dept. of Ins., 904 N.E.2d 198 (Ind. 2009), which held this language in the AWDA doesn’t expand the class of such necessitated expenses nor direct the expansion of the circumscribed damages defined in the statute.

But Judges Melissa May, L. Mark Bailey, and Michael Barnes concluded otherwise today in Hematology-Oncology of Indiana, P.C. v. Hadley W. Fruits, Personal Rep. for the Estate of Elizabeth Ann Cadou, No. 49A05-0910-CV-556. The judges believed that Kuba v. Ristow Trucking Co., 508 N.E.2d 1, 2 (Ind. 1987), instructs that the “may include but are not limited to” language allows for other categories of compensatory damages, like attorney’s fees. The Kuba ruling took the view that although the legislature left open the statute to allow for other damages, these damages must be compensatory.

And attorney’s fees have been found to be in the nature of compensatory instead of punitive damages, wrote Judge May.

The judges also rejected Hematology-Oncology of Indiana’s argument that the attorney’s fee award violated the Medical Malpractice Act because the act limits the business’ liability to $250,000 and the combined award of damages and attorney’s fees would exceed that amount. The appellate court has previously ruled in Emergency Physicians of Indianapolis v. Pettit, 714 N.E.2d 1111, 1114 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), that if they were to cap the fees based on the attorney’s fee award, then a party who engages in conduct that would warrant attorney’s fees could escape accountability for his conduct by alleging that the award would exceed the statutory limit.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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