The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in Horejs v. Milford, 117 N.E.3d 559 (Ind. 2019), a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit in Indiana concerning the availability of “survivor damages” for wrongful death, including loss of love, care, and companionship. In Horejs, the surviving widower, the statutory beneficiary under Indiana’s wrongful death statute, died during the pendency of the case without an heir. The Court previously held in Bemenderfer v. Williams, 745 N.E.2d 212 (Ind. 2001) that “the wrongful death statute does not operate to preclude the statutory beneficiary who dies before judgment from recovering wrongful death damages.” Id. at 214. However, while Bemenderfer held wrongful death damages did not abate upon the death of the surviving widow under Indiana’s survival statute, which allows claims to proceed after the death of a claimant, unlike Horejs, there was an heir to recover those damages in Bemenderfer.
After the patient in Horejs died as a result of alleged medical malpractice, her surviving husband was appointed administrator of her estate and he filed a lawsuit against the medical providers for wrongful death damages, which include “survivor damages” such as loss of love, care and companionship and “final-expense damages” such as medical, funeral and burial expenses. While the lawsuit was pending, the surviving husband died intestate (without a will), leaving no heir. Thereafter, the deceased patient’s father and brothers were appointed co-administrators of the patient’s estate.
Indiana’s wrongful death statute provides that the personal representative of the decedent may maintain an action against the alleged wrongdoer if the decedent could have maintained an action had he or she lived. Wrongful death damages recovered for reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses inure to the exclusive benefit of the decedent’s estate for payment thereof, and the remainder of damages, if any, such as loss of love, care and companionship, inure to the exclusive benefit of the widow or widower, dependent children, and dependent next of kin.