The loss of a family member can bring overwhelming emotions. Grieving can be difficult enough without the added devastation of knowing that the person you loved might still be alive but for the negligence or intentional harm of another. In addition, the resulting financial burdens only add to the stress and bereavement survivors suffer; costly funeral and burial expenses pale to the lost income and endangered standard of living when the person was a spouse, partner, or head of household. No amount of compensation can bring back a loved one, but a wrongful death award can serve to help ensure that those who were responsible are held to account, and allow survivors to move forward with life.
If someone you loved lost their life while visiting another’s property, you may be entitled to damages. Indiana’s statute of limitations law disallows wrongful death claims after two years, so speak to a personal injury with experience in premises liability as soon as possible. Contact The Law Office of William W. Hurst at (317) 636-0808 or write to us online for a free consultation, and learn if our lawyers may be able to help you.
Under Indiana law (I.C. § 34-23-1-1), a wrongful death occurs, “when the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” A wrongful death action is contingent upon whether the deceased might have been able to recover damages in a personal injury suit had he or she lived.
In many states, surviving spouses, children, and sometimes parents may file a wrongful death claim when an adult dies. In Indiana, a personal representative of the estate of the deceased must file any wrongful death claim, so only family members who are designated personal representatives may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved one.
The Indiana wrongful death statute treats children differently. In the case of a child losing his or her life, parents may file a wrongful death claim together or separately if their child was under age 20, or under age 23 and enrolled in college. In the event of a divorce, where one parent is given full custody, only the custodial parent may file a wrongful death claim. In other cases where both parents have passed, a guardian may file a wrongful death claim.
Premises Liability and Wrongful Death
Premises liability refers to the laws that deal with wrongful acts that happen on another’s property. Property owners have a legal duty of care to those who visit the premises or land that they own. Under Indiana law, social guests to private homes and other privately owned property, citizens who use public property such as parks and playgrounds, and consumers who enter businesses of any kind (restaurants, retail shops, nail salons, and car dealerships are just some examples) have the most protection. Property owners are required to maintain a safe environment and warn visitors who they have invited to their property of potential dangers.
Those who are “licensed” to be on another’s property, such as mail carriers or door-to-door salespeople, have more limited protections in the event of injury. Trespassers have the least protection of all, and may even have none depending on the circumstances.
Property owners must warn licensees of known dangers, and they cannot intentionally harm any type of visitor, including trespassers. Child trespassers are an exception to Indiana liability laws, and property owners owe them a duty of care regardless of how they came to be on the property.
The visitor’s status, as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, is a central issue for determining whether a property owner may be liable for a wrongful death. Common scenarios that may implicate a property owner in a premises liability wrongful death claim include:
- Poorly maintained building causes loss of life;
- Child drowns in a neighbor’s swimming pool after wandering into their yard;
- Child dies from an injury suffered at a daycare facility;
- An invitee slips and falls at a place of business, causing in a fatal injury; and
- A visitor was assaulted and murdered on a property that had inadequate security.
How Damages Are Distributed in Wrongful Death Cases
Indiana law provides clear direction on damages, both types and limits, and the way they may be distributed in wrongful death cases. The following conditions apply to wrongful death claims in Indiana:
- The court or jury will determine the amount of damages.
- The court will not award damages for grief if the victim was an adult. This differs when the deceased is a child under the age of 20, or 23 if enrolled in college. While parents can not explicitly make a claim for grief, some other damages get close. Parents may file claims for the loss of love and companionship of a child, the loss of a child’s service, and expenses for psychological counseling for minor siblings and parents who are suffering from grief because of the death of a child.
- The court will not award punitive damages in wrongful death cases, even in cases of gross negligence by a property owner.
- Damages may include reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses, and the loss of the adult person’s love and companionship (capped at $300,000).
- Damages are paid to the estate to cover expenses and the remainder is distributed to the widow or widower, dependent children, or dependent next of kin. When the deceased has no one surviving him or her, damages are distributed to those who hospitalized the deceased in connection with his or her last illness or injury, medical or surgical services, a funeral home, and to the personal representative of the estate.
Contact a Skilled Premises Liability Wrongful Death Lawyer in Indianapolis
If someone you loved has died because of a property owner’s negligence or intent to harm, speak to one of the compassionate and experienced lawyers at The Law Office of William W. Hurst and learn if we can help. Contact us today at (317) 636-0808 or email us for a free consultation.