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Wrongful death action does not survive plaintiff's death

Gathering evidence and taking appropriate legal measures are essential in holding negligent parties responsible through an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit. In a recent case, however, the estate of a woman who died because of alleged medical malpractice cannot receive survivor damages, because her husband died without having a will or naming heirs.

The husband filed the wrongful death action in 2007 against his deceased wife's doctor, treating hospital and others because their negligent care caused her death. He claimed he was owed survivor damages under Indiana's law for loss of her earnings, wages and benefits, reasonable value of her services and affection and companionship.

He later died while the lawsuit was still ongoing without having a will or heirs. However, the wife's estate continued to prosecute the lawsuit. It argued that the defendants could avoid accountability if it could not pursue the survivor damages sought by her husband in the lawsuit.

The defendants sought the partial dismissal of the lawsuit. They claimed that the state would receive any survivor damages. This would only punish the defendants instead of providing compensation to those who suffered financial losses in the lawsuit, according to the defendants. They claimed that the wife's estate is only entitled to final-expense damages under the state's wrongful death law.

A state appeals court rejected the estate's arguments. While the court agreed that the defendants may avoid accountability for their negligence, as charged by the estate, Indiana law allows situations where some defendants are not responsible for survivor benefits.

It agreed that payment of survivor benefits to the state goes against the intent of the law to ensure that compensation is paid to survivors. Any inequalities would have to be corrected by changing the law, according to the court.

The court also considered the estate's claim that defendants in wrongful death lawsuits could try to escape liability and responsibility by delaying cases as long as possible with the hope that any legal beneficiaries will die. Executing a will and naming heirs can eliminate this tactic, according to the court.

It is important that the appropriate parties are held liable when their negligence causes the death of another individual. Families may want to seek compensation, but as this case shows, there are limitations. Those who are pursuing a wrongful death claim and are wondering how this recent ruling will affect them may want to seek the help needed to have their questions answered.

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