Indiana's Crazy Wrongful Death Laws

Think about a crazy verdict that has been in the news over the past 10 years. While some of those crazy verdicts that we hear about are real, most are not. I think people would be more shocked to learn that most of the time juries get it right. Knowing this, they would get angry that our politicians have decided that the citizens of Indiana cannot be trusted to sit on a jury when the case involves someone being killed due to the carelessness of another. It sounds strange, but as the saying goes, truth is often stranger than reality.

Let's take one example of where your State Senators and State Representatives think that you are too dumb or too gullible to handle jury duty.

Do you know any adults who are not married and do not have any kids? If they are hit by a drunk driver and killed, how much lives are worth? One of the great injustices in the State of Indiana is the body of law concerning wrongful death. When juries decide the value of a person who has been killed due to the carelessness of another, the legislature has decided that THEY get to really decide what the amount of the damages will be. YOU can't be trusted.

And unfortunately, those same State Representatives and State Senators don't value the lives of your children, your parents, and other adults very highly. In fact, unmarried adults without dependents are only worth $300,000. That is the artificial "cap" imposed by our legislature to protect wealthy people, corporations and insurance companies from having to pay large verdicts for these "second class citizens."

A human life for $300,000?!!!! The CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield made that much in a day in 2008. Charlie Sheen used to make 7 times as much to film one half-an-hour television episode. There is no rhyme or reason to that number, it's simply what the legislature decided one day many years ago a life was worth. They haven't adjusted the amount for inflation since 1999.

In a wrongful death case, a person who is survived by a wife or children can collect damages that are essentially unlimited, based upon factors like loss of love and affection, salary, life expectancy and other factors. Juries get to listen to evidence and award damages in accordance with the law as given to them by the trial judge. Often these damages go into the millions of dollars.

But if you don't have dependants, be it children or a spouse, you simply aren't worth much. $300,000 is a ridiculous amount for having caused the death of a another human being.

Who benefits? Insurance companies and corporations. They are, after all, the ones who usually have to pay when someone is killed due to the fault of another person. Insurance companies and corporations give millions of dollars to political campaigns. So over the years they have worked with certain legislators to ensure that they won't have give up much in the way of profits when someone is killed due to the fault of another.

It's sad and tragic. A life in Indiana should be worth as much as a life in Illinois or Michigan. If people actually knew about this unfair law before it was passed, things might be different. Unfortunately, the law is allowed to stand.

Please call your legislators today and tell them you want this injustice corrected!

I have included a copy of the law governing wrongful death below. This is the law as it stands in March of 2011. Let's hope it changes in the near future.

IC 34-23
ARTICLE 23. CAUSES OF ACTION: WRONGFUL DEATH IC 34-23-1-1
Death from wrongful act or omission

Sec. 1. When the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another, the personal representative of the former may maintain an action therefor against the latter, if the former might have maintained an action had he or she, as the case may be, lived, against the latter for an injury for the same act or omission. When the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another, the action shall be commenced by the personal representative of the decedent within two (2) years, and the damages shall be in such an amount as may be determined by the court or jury, including, but not limited to, reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses, and lost earnings of such deceased person resulting from said wrongful act or omission. That part of the damages which is recovered for reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expense shall inure to the exclusive benefit of the decedent's estate for the payment thereof. The remainder of the damages, if any, shall, subject to the provisions of this article, inure to the exclusive benefit of the widow or widower, as the case may be, and to the dependent children, if any, or dependent next of kin, to be distributed in the same manner as the personal property of the deceased. If such decedent depart this life leaving no such widow or widower, or dependent children or dependent next of kin, surviving her or him, the damages inure to the exclusive benefit of the person or persons furnishing necessary and reasonable hospitalization or hospital services in connection with the last illness or injury of the decedent, performing necessary and reasonable medical or surgical services in connection with the last illness or injury of the decedent, to a funeral director or funeral home for the necessary and reasonable funeral and burial expenses, and to the personal representative, as such, for the necessary and reasonable costs and expenses of administering the estate and prosecuting or compromising the action, including a reasonable attorney's fee, and in case of a death under such circumstances, and when such decedent leaves no such widow, widower, or dependent children, or dependent next of kin, surviving him or her, the measure of damages to be recovered shall be the total of the necessary and reasonable value of such hospitalization or hospital service, medical and surgical services, such funeral expenses, and such costs and expenses of administration, including attorney fees.
As added by P.L.1-1998, SEC.18.


IC 34-23-1-2
Wrongful death actions; damages
Sec. 2. (a) As used in this section, "adult person" means an unmarried individual:
(1) who does not have any dependents; and
(2) who is not a child (as defined in IC 34-23-2-1).
(b) If the death of an adult person is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another person, only the personal representative of the adult person may maintain an action against the person whose wrongful act or omission caused the death of the adult person.
(c) In an action to recover damages for the death of an adult person, the damages:
(1) must be in an amount determined by a:
(A) court; or
(B) jury;
(2) may not include:
(A) damages awarded for a person's grief; or
(B) punitive damages; and
(3) may include but are not limited to the following:
(A) Reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses necessitated by the wrongful act or omission that caused the adult person's death.
(B) Loss of the adult person's love and companionship.
(d) Damages awarded under subsection (c)(3)(A) for medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses inure to the exclusive benefit of the adult person's estate for the payment of the expenses. The remainder of the damages inure to the exclusive benefit of a nondependent parent or nondependent child of the adult person.
(e) Aggregate damages that may be recovered under subsection (c)(3)(B) may not exceed three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000). A jury may not be advised of the monetary limits placed on damages under this subsection. If the jury awards the plaintiff damages under subsection (c)(3)(B) in an amount that exceeds three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000), the court shall reduce that part of the damages awarded to the plaintiff to three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000).
(f) A parent or child who wishes to recover damages under this section has the burden of proving that the parent or child had a genuine, substantial, and ongoing relationship with the adult person before the parent or child may recover damages.
(g) In an action brought under this section, a court or a jury may not hear evidence concerning the lost earnings of the adult person that occur as a result of the wrongful act or omission.
(h) In awarding damages under this section to more than one (1) person, the court or the jury shall specify the amount of the damages that should be awarded to each person.
(i) In an action brought under this section, the trier of fact shall make a separate finding with respect to damages awarded under subsection (c)(3)(B).
As added by P.L.84-1999, SEC.2.

Sweeney Julian, P.C. - South Bend Personal Injury Lawyer
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Phone: 574.635.1673
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