A northern Indiana senator has introduced legislation to amend Indiana’s wrongful death statute to allow for surviving families to collect attorney fees.
Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, has proposed in Senate Bill 124 that language be added to Indiana Code 34-23-1 that would enable a widow or widower, dependent children or dependent next of kin to receive reasonable attorney fees in wrongful death actions.
The measure comes after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in August that under current law attorney fees do not qualify as damages when the deceased is survived by family. In SCI Propane, LLC; South Central Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corp.; Rush Shelby Energy Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Courtney Frederick, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Stephan Frederick, Deceased, 55S04-1508-PL-501, the unanimous court found the state’s General Wrongful Death Statute allows for attorney fees only when the decedent has no survivors.
Randolph’s bill specifies that in an adult wrongful death lawsuit, damages include “reasonable attorney’s fees” incurred by the estate or any other person for bringing and maintaining the action.
The fiscal impact of the new language would depend on whether a state agency is found liable for an individual’s death, according to the Indiana Legislative Services Agency. The maximum payment for a wrongful death from the state government is $700,000 but the average cost of attorney fees in such actions is unknown.
Senate Bill 124 has been assigned to the Senate Civil Law Committee which is chaired by Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville.