« Law - Indiana Daily Student editorial on stalled Dawn Johnsen nomination | Main | Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 1 today (and 4 NFP) »

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides aspect of Inlow estate dispute [Updated]

In the Matter of the Estate of Lawrence W. Inlow; Anita Inlow v. Jason L. Inlow, Heather N. Johnson, Jeremy H. Inlow, and Sarah C. Inlow, a 5-page, 5-0 opinion issued today, written by Justice Dickson, provides:

When the proceeds from a pre-trial settlement of a special administrator's wrongful death action are not specifically allocated between different types of damages, to what extent is the decedent's estate entitled to payment therefrom for the decedent's funeral and burial costs? To address this question, we granted transfer. * * *

We do not agree, however, with the widow's contention that none of the wrongful death settlement proceeds can be paid to the Estate for the funeral and burial expenses. It is quite apparent from the language of the Act that, in creating a statutory cause of action for wrongful death, the legislature intended particular attention to the payment of medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses. To extend this legislative objective to pre-trial settlements, a proportional allocation appears most equitable. To guide the distribution of pre-adjudication settlements in wrongful death cases in a manner consistent with the statutory scheme for distribution of proceeds when damages are adjudicated, we exercise our common law supervisory authority.

We hold that, to resolve such disputes as presented in this case, a court should direct payment from the pre-trial wrongful death settlement that part of the medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses that corresponds to the ratio of the total of such expenses to the estimated total damages sustained. We understand that in such disputes a court's allocation of a pre-trial wrongful death settlement may require that the court receive evidence from the parties to enable it to ascertain the approximate total damages and thus determine a proportionate equitable allocation.

We reverse the court's September 5, 2007, order to the extent that such order approves the claim of the Successor Personal Representative for the distribution of the full amount of funeral and burial expenses from the wrongful death settlement proceeds. This case is remanded to the court for a determination of the portion of said expenses to be distributed to the Estate from the wrongful death settlement in a manner consistent with this opinion.

[Updated at 4:00 PM] Erika D. Smith of the Indianapolis Star has now posted a report on the ruling, headlned "Indiana Supreme Court reverses earlier ruling on Inlow estate."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 18, 2009 10:26 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions