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Wrongful death statute allows for attorney fees, other costs

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Compensation for attorney fees and other costs can be awarded under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute, ruled a Court of Appeals panel today.

In the case relying on the interpretation of the Adult Wrongful Death Statute, the appellate court affirmed the Marion Superior Court ruling in Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Beverly S. Brown, et al., No. 49A02-1001-CT-80.

Beverly S. Brown, as executor of the estate of her sister, Barbara J. Frieden, had settled a medical malpractice claim for the statutory limit after Frieden died of a heart attack. She then petitioned the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund for additional compensation. The trial court awarded $278,377.55, which included compensation for attorney fees, litigation costs, estate administration costs, and loss of services to their parents. The fund appealed, arguing that those damages were not authorized under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute.

Judge Terry Crone wrote the panel agrees with Hematology-Oncology of Indiana, P.C. v. Fruits, 2010 WL 3250175 at *2-4 (Ind. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2010), and Judge Patricia Riley’s dissent in McCabe v. Comm’r, Ind. Dep’t of Ins., 930 N.E.2d 1202 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), trans. sought. In that case, she noted that Butler v. Ind. Dep’t of Ins., 904 N.E.2d 198, 202 (Ind. 2009), reiterated that the Adult Wrongful Death Statute does allow for the recovery of damages other than those spelled out in subsections (c)(3)(A) and (c)(3)(B).

“The AWDS must be narrowly construed, but the legislature used open-ended language to describe the damages available under the statute. Decisions discussing the history and purpose of wrongful death actions, such as Kuba, have indicated that the damages should be compensatory in nature. Therefore, treble and punitive damages have been disallowed. Durham, 745 N.E.2d at 761; Kuba, 508 N.E.2d at 2,” Judge Crone wrote. “By contrast, attorney fees, probate administration costs, and litigation costs are compensatory damages that remedy actual pecuniary losses. Therefore, we find no compelling reason why these damages should not be allowed.”

The fund had argued that pecuniary damages are “categorically unavailable” under the AWDS.

“We cannot agree. Loss of services, when proved, would constitute a pecuniary loss of the type contemplated by the AWDS. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court,” Judge Crone wrote.

 

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