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Court to decide whether lawsuit survives plaintiff's death

A lawsuit may be able to survive the plaintiff's death according to an appeal heard by the Indiana State Supreme Court earlier this month. After hearing arguments on this appeal, the court will decide whether medical providers will have to pay damages in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the patient's husband before he died.

His 44-year-old wife died after hernia surgery in Jan. 2006. He filed the lawsuit requesting damages for the loss of her earnings and wages, her services and loss of companionship, love, affection and support.

He died in Oct. 2015. Attorneys claimed that he was forced to move in with his mother because of loneliness and loss of support from his wife. He died at his mother's residence from carbon monoxide poisoning. Before his death, he filed a wrongful death claim with a review panel as required. However, the case was not completed before his death.

A state appeals court ruled against the new representatives for the wife's estate. It found that the state's wrongful death law only provides for two types of damages. First, final-expense damages include medical, funeral, burial and estate administration expenses. Survivor damages, however, include the loss of the deceased's earnings. The court ruled that the family was not entitled to these damages.

Attorneys for the defendants argued that the family was restricted to final-expense damages. The appeals court ruled that there can no longer be survivor damages because her husband, the survivor, died.

In their oral argument on appeal heard by the court, the wife's family argued that the right to survivorship persists because the husband survived his wife after the surgery. Their attorney claimed that they should receive damages because Indiana's law requires accountability for wrongful death.

Attorneys for the health care providers argued that the law is intended to compensate specific heirs and not to serve as punishment. Any survivorship damages, accordingly, should go to the state.

Families who lose a loved one because of another's negligence should seek immediate legal assistance. An attorney can help assure that evidence is obtained and help victims take prudent steps so that their lawsuit proceeds.

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