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Judges divided over complicated issue of wrongful-death attorney fees

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A complex and complicated case regarding whether attorney fees awarded from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund are capped at 15 percent led to a split in the Indiana Court of Appeals. The majority decided that the cap does not apply to the calculation of excess damages of any type from the fund.

“As attorney fees are recoverable as pecuniary damages in an adult wrongful death action, we cannot adopt the Fund’s position that the total amount of attorney fees recoverable may be only 15% of what is taken from the Fund, without regard to whether or to what extent that amount includes attorney fees on the amount recovered before the Fund is reached. Instead, the 15% limitation applies only to new monies from the fund, not monies that otherwise might be characterized as attorney fees on the amount recovered before the Fund is reached, but that is included as damages when applied to the Fund,” Judge Melissa May wrote in Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Judy Holcomb, Personal Representative of the Estate of Mable Louis Cochran, Deceased, 49A05-1207-CC-340. Judge Rudolph Pyle III joined her decision.

The issue of the amount of legal fees owed by the Patient’s Compensation Fund stems from the death of Mable Louise Cochran in 2011 allegedly caused by medical malpractice. Judy Holcomb, her personal representative, opened the estate to pursue a wrongful death claim under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute against the nursing home where Cochran resided.

The trial court awarded Holcomb’s attorneys $50,440 in attorney fees to be paid by the fund after she settled with the nursing home and sought additional money from the fund. That amount was calculated by Holcomb’s attorneys based on a $400 hourly rate and hours worked. But the IPCF claimed the amount exceeds that permitted under I.C. 34-18-18-1, which says the attorney fees may not exceed 15 percent of any recovery from the fund. The fund sought the attorney fee award cut to $17,852.98, which would be 15 percent of the $101,166.89 awarded.

“Under the facts the parties have placed before us, including an agreement regarding the Fund’s liability that purported to include no attorney fees as damages, it is impossible to reach a result that is fair to the Estate and to its counsel, yet consistent with the statutory 15% limitation. As the trial court’s award does not accurately reflect either the proper amount of attorney fees or proper allocation of money awarded from the Fund, we must reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” May wrote.

The judges on the appellate panel at times were stumped during oral arguments on the issues in this case, which is reflected in Chief Judge Margret Robb’s dissent. She pointed out the majority addressed issues that weren’t before the court. All the COA should rule on is the total amount of the fund’s excess damages liability. She would affirm the trial court’s award, plus the $50,000 in attorney fees.

She wrote the probate court should determine how much Holcomb’s counsel receives from the excess damages payment, taking into account the Medical Malpractice Act’s 15 percent limitation.

“In other words, when the time comes to distribute the Fund payment – which is not now – the probate court could not approve distribution of more than $22,741.03 of the Fund’s payment to the Estate’s attorneys ($151,606.89 x .15 = $22,741.03). Any fee balance remaining due to the attorneys pursuant to the fee agreement would have to be paid out of the earlier provider payment to the Estate,” she wrote.
 

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  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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