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Judges disagree on whether Rhode Island law applies in wrongful death case

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A Court of Appeals judge dissented from her colleagues’ decision that Rhode Island law should apply in awarding a wrongful death settlement because she believed that the Rhode Island court would have found Indiana law applies.

Eddie G. Showley, as executor of the estate of Phillip J. Showley, appealed a trial court order distributing wrongful death proceeds to Tracey Kelsey, individually and as successor personal representative of the estate of Sonya Sue Showley. Eddie Showley is Phillip’s adult son; Kelsey is Sonya Showley’s adult daughter.

Sonya Showley died in 2006 in Indiana due to a defective hernia patch, which was made by a Rhode Island company. Phillip Showley became administrator of his wife’s estate and pursued a wrongful death action, but he died while the action was pending in Rhode Island. Kelsey, now administrator of her mother’s estate, accepted a $292,500 wrongful death entitlement as a settlement and sought partial distribution of the award. The Indiana trial court awarded her the wrongful death settlement as the sole surviving beneficiary of Sonya’s estate pursuant to the laws of Rhode Island. Eddie Showley claimed that the wrongful death proceeds should have been distributed pursuant to I.C 34-23-1-1 and thus, Phillip Showley’s estate would have been the sole beneficiary.

Relying on Matter of Estate of Bruck, 632 N.E.2d 745 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), in which the COA approved the distribution of wrongful death proceeds in accordance with Ohio law, the majority affirmed the distribution to Kelsey based on Rhode Island law in Eddie G. Showley, Executor, Estate of Phillip J. Showley v. Tracey Kelsey, Individually and as Successor Personal Representative of the Estate of Sonya Sue Showley, 09A04-1301-ES-22.

“Phillip, as initial administrator of Sonya’s estate, filed a suit for wrongful death based on the laws of Rhode Island. In his complaint, Phillip requested to be awarded punitive damages for Sonya’s wrongful death. Pursuant to Rhode Island, punitive damages are permitted under the wrongful death statute, whereas this award cannot be made under Indiana law,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

“Because a recovery only exists under the law of Rhode Island, its distribution cannot be separated and must be enforced in accordance with Rhode Island statute in order to preserve the integrity of the underlying substantive right.”

In her dissent, Judge Elaine Brown believed lex loci delicti should control distribution of the proceeds instead of the significant relationship test.

“Indeed, my review of applicable Rhode Island law reveals that, had this matter proceeded to trial, the Rhode Island court would have decided to apply Indiana’s wrongful death statute,” she wrote. “Thus, Eddie, as Philip’s sole heir, is entitled to Philip’s share of the proceeds of Showley’s settlement, which is the remainder of the settlement proceeds after payment to Showley’s estate of ‘reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expense[s],’ Ind. Code § 34-23-1-1, because Kelsey did not demonstrate that she is a dependent child.”

 

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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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