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Reimbursement to estate should be proportional

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled today that a proportional allocation of proceeds from a pre-trial settlement would be best way to reimburse an estate for funeral and burial expenses.

The high court accepted In the Matter of the Supervised Administration of the Estate of Lawrence W. Inlow, deceased; Anita Inlow v. Jason L. Inlow, et al., No. 29S02-0902-CV-89, to answer the question: To what extent is a decedent's estate entitled to payment from a pre-trial settlement of a wrongful-death action in which the settlement doesn't allocate specifically between different types of damages.

Lawrence Inlow was killed in 1997 when he was struck in the head by a blade of a company helicopter. At the time of his death, he had no will.

Inlow's widow, Anita, paid $284,000 in funeral and burial costs, and then sought and received reimbursement from the estate. After a settlement was reached in a wrongful-death action in federal court, the estate sought reimbursement of that money in 2004. The Hamilton County trial court ordered in 2007 that Inlow's estate receive full reimbursement of the $284,000.

Anita appealed, believing Indiana Code Section 34-23-1-1 requires the payment of funeral and burial expenses from a wrongful-death award to an estate only when the award specifies what amount should go toward funeral expenses. If the award is able to be used to reimburse the estate, she argued she and her dependent son will receive no portion of those monies.

The defendants in this case, the personal representative of Inlow's estate and his four adult children from a previous marriage, argued the statute requires the damages to be used first to reimburse the estate for the funeral and burial costs incurred whether or not a portion of the damages award was designated for these expenses.

A split Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court order, but the Supreme Court disagreed today. In its decision, Justice Brent Dickson wrote, "To impose upon all pre-trial wrongful death settlements a requirement that the net proceeds must first be allocated to medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses before distribution for other damages could frequently, as here, be inequitable and create an undesired counter-incentive to seek settlement."

The justices also disagreed with Anita's argument that none of the settlement could be paid to the estate for funeral or burial expenses because it didn't specify any of that recovered money was to be used for that purpose.

"It is quite apparent from the language of the Act that, in creating a statutory cause of action for wrongful death, the legislature intended particular attention to the payment of medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses," the justice wrote. "To extend this legislative objective to pre-trial settlements, a proportional allocation appears most equitable."

The court should direct payment from a pre-trial wrongful-death settlement the part of the medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses that corresponds to the ratio of the total of such expenses to the estimated total damages sustained.

The case is remanded to the trial court for a determination of the portion of the funeral and burial expenses that will be reimbursed to the estate from the wrongful-death settlement.

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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