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Question remains as to whether son is ‘child’ under Wrongful Death Statute

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the defendants on two parents’ claims under the Child Wrongful Death Statute regarding their 21-year-old son who died in a car accident. The appellate court found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the informal apprenticeship the son was participating in at the time of his death would be considered a vocational program under the CWDS.

Matthew Longest and his father Robert were involved in a car accident in 1998 with Lisa Sledge, resulting in Matthew Longest’s death and injuries to Robert Longest. The father, his wife Maribel – who is now deceased – and the son’s estate sued Sledge under the Child Wrongful Death Statute and the General Wrongful Death Statute, as well as sued for the father’s injuries and the mother’s loss of consortium. At the time of his death, Matthew Longest was studying under his father to be a journeyman mason through an informal, non-union apprentice.

The defendants sought partial summary judgment that the parents’ claims under the GWDS were limited to funeral, medical and administrative expenses because they were not their son’s dependent next of kin. The defendants also argued that Matthew Longest wasn’t a child under the CWDS because he wasn’t enrolled in a vocational program as required under the statute. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the defendants on these issues.

In Matthew Longest, Deceased, by Robert Longest, Adm. & Parent of Matthew Longest, & Robert Longest, Jr. Adm. of Maribel Longest, Deceased v. Lisa M. Sledge, minor & Roger Brown & Donna Sledge, 47A05-1211-CT-594, the Court of Appeals reversed regarding the claims under the CWDS, rejecting the defendants’ argument that Matthew Longest had to be enrolled in a formal program that incorporated some component of traditional classroom instruction. Thus, there is a question as to whether the son is considered a child under the CWDS.

The judges affirmed the ruling in favor of the defendants that Matthew Longest’s parents weren’t his dependent next of kin. The parents were unable to prove that although the son was living at home and paying rent to his parents, as well as performing household chores, this qualified as even a partial dependency on him by the parents. The COA concluded the son’s actions were the sort of kindness one expected of a son living under his parents’ roof.

The judges also affirmed the trial court’s decision to reduce the attorney fees awarded to the Longests to one-fourth of the total amount performed for the four claims they brought, as attorney fees were only awardable to the estate of Matthew Longest on its claim.
 
 

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