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Wrongful death case involving a church will proceed

It is the unfortunate fact that a person's life could be cut short due to the acts of another individual. When this happens, the victim's survivors might pursue a wrongful death case. However, wrongful death cases are not always straightforward. A wrongful death case can involve unlikely and unforeseen parties, and the specific circumstances and specific facts of the case can determine its outcome. In one case, a lawsuit was filed against a church for the drowning death of a babysitter at its pastors' home. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in April that this lawsuit may continue.

An 18-year-old Valparaiso University student was found dead in the pastors' swimming pool at their Schererville home in 2015. At the time, she was babysitting the pastors' granddaughter.

The homeowners are married and senior pastors for a Munster church. They hired the deceased to babysit their grandchildren several times. According to the record, the babysitter was not being supervised when she drowned.

The babysitter's mother filed the lawsuit against the church. In seeking it dismissal, the church argued that the babysitter was its employee and, accordingly, Indiana's workers' compensation law provided the only remedy for her death. Workers' compensation could possibly restrict the financial relief sought.

The trial court rejected this motion to dismiss. The appeals court also denied this motion and did not accept the defendant's argument that it controlled her work and that she was a church employee.

In fact, the appeals court determined that she was an independent contractor who was not governed by workers' compensation laws. It found that her babysitting job was not a distinct occupation, she also was employed in the college dining hall when she was a full-time student, worked irregular hours over two months, and could decide whether to accept or reject babysitting jobs for the church. She was also paid by each babysitting job and filled out an Internal Revenue Service Form W-9 used by independent contractors instead of the employee's Form W-4.

Details like these can determine whether a lawsuit may proceed or is limited by workers' compensation or other circumstances. When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, it may take a solid understanding of the law in order overcome any challenges they face when seeking compensation for their loved one's wrongful death.

Source: The Indiana Lawyer, "Munster church must face wrongful death suit, appeals court affirms," Dave Stafford, April 17, 2018

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