The Indiana Court of Appeals invited the Indiana Supreme Court to revisit its ruling that held only children born alive fall under Indiana's Child Wrongful Death Statute. In a decision today, the majority of the appellate court panel felt bound by the high court's previous ruling.
At issue in Savannah Linley Ann Nelson Ramirez, An Individual Under the Child Wrongful Death Act, By Her Father, Stephan Ramirez v. James A. Wilson and Suzy-Q Trucking, LLC, No. 56A04-0806-CV-356, is whether a 9-month-old fetus should be considered a child under the statute. The mother of Savannah died in a car accident as a result of a car accident with James Wilson. The baby died in utero.
Ramirez filed a complaint under the statute alleging Wilson's negligence caused his daughter's death. The trial court granted Wilson's motion for partial summary judgment because the statute isn't applicable because Savannah wasn't born alive. The trial court ruled it was bound to grant the partial summary judgment by the Supreme Court's decision in Bolin v. Wingert, 764 N.E.2d 201 (Ind. 2002).
Ramirez argues on appeal that a full-term and viable fetus should be considered a child under the Child Wrongful Death Statute. But in Bolin, the high court ruled a 10-week-old fetus didn't constitute a child under the statute and that the legislature only intended for babies born alive to be covered.
Even though the circumstances between Bolin and the instance case are different, Judges L. Mark Bailey and Cale Bradford affirmed the grant of partial summary judgment, citing the precedent set by the Supreme Court in Bolin. However, the majority urged the high court to reconsider the scope of their earlier ruling based on the circumstances of this case that perhaps Savannah could have lived had there been a prompt Cesarean section performed, wrote Judge Bailey.
But Judge Patricia Riley dissented, writing that exceptions can be made to stare decisis, such as when the reasoning of a precedent is patently flawed.
"In my opinion, Bolin represents a fallacy and no longer has any contemporary relevance. Judicial honesty dictates corrective action," she wrote.
Citing two cases decided by the Supreme Court on the issue of unborn children's rights, Judge Riley wrote Indiana courts were focused on protecting the rights of the unborn until the Bolin decision came in 2002. The judge also cited Horn v. Hendrickson, 824 N.E.2d 290 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), in which the appellate court affirmed a mother couldn't file suit under the statute following the death of her six-month-old fetus after a car accident. That ruling also invited the high court to reconsider the Bolin opinion.