Indiana’s Limitations Relating To The Parents’ Recovery For The Death of Their Child in 1998. [Note, Indiana Law has changed on the amount of recovery for a single adult since 1998]
Parents filed a wrongful death action following the death of their son. In 1998, 21-year-old Matthew was living with his parents and participating in an informal apprenticeship to become a journeyman mason under his father’s supervision. The wrongful death claim was filed under the Child Wrongful Death Statute (CWDS). The defendants filed a motion arguing that recovery under the GWDS was limited to medical, funeral, and administration expenses and attorney fees because the parents were not Matthew’s “dependent next of kin.” The parents filed a response in which they argued that they were entitled to recovery under the CWDS or, alternatively, the General Wrongful Death Statute (GWDS). The defendants replied that Matthew was not a child for the purposes of the CWDS because Matthew’s apprenticeship with his father did not constitute enrollment in a vocational school or program, and that Matthew’s contributions to the household were insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether his parents were dependent upon him. The trial court concluded that the parents were not entitled to recover under the CWDS because Matthew was not enrolled in a vocational school or program at the time of his death, and that recovery under the GWDS was limited to medical and funeral expenses by the estate because they were not Matthew’s dependent next of kin.
In 2013, the Appellate Court noted that the CWDS allows a parent to maintain an action against a person whose wrongful act or omission causes the injury or death of a child. The remedies available in such an action include damages for the loss of the child’s services, love, and companionship, as well as medical, burial, and administrative expenses, including attorney fees. At issue in this appeal is whether Matthew was a child for the purposes of the CWDS at the time of his death. The version of the CDWS in effect at the time of death provided the following definition of a “child” means an unmarried individual without dependents who is less than twenty (20) years of age; or less than 23 years of age and is enrolled in an institution of higher education or in a vocational school or program. Under the GWDS, allows for an action to be maintained 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 … 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…. [W]hen 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.
In this case, it is undisputed that Matthew left no widow or dependent children. Thus, in order for the parents to recover under the GWDS, they must establish that they were Matthew’s “dependent next of kin.” Dependency is based on a condition and not a promise, and such dependency must be actual, amounting to a necessitous want on the part of the beneficiary and a recognition of that necessity on the part of decedent, an actual dependence coupled with a reasonable expectation of support or with some reasonable claim to support from decedent. The mere fact that deceased occasionally contributed to the support of the beneficiary in an irregular way, is not sufficient to support the action…. We acknowledge that total dependency is not required under the GWDS; indeed, this court has held that a “plaintiff may be partially dependent even though he could survive without the contribution made by the deceased.” On the other hand, our supreme court has held that payments for board, lodging or other accommodations … are not sufficient to establish dependency on the part of the recipient. Both parents acknowledged that the funds received from Matthew were in the nature of payments for room, board, and laundry services. Accordingly, these payments are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact with respect to dependency for the purposes of the GWDS. Services may be sufficient to establish dependency, but the contributions must be more than just a service or benefit to which the claimed dependent has become accustomed, and they must go beyond merely helping other family members, even those who have relied on that assistance. We conclude that Matthew’s actions amounted to no more than the sort of gifts, acts of generosity, and kindness to be expected of a son still living under his parents’ roof. More is required to establish dependency for the purposes of the GWDS. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the parents’ GWDS claim. 992 N.E.2d 221