by Jon Noyes (Attorney Profile)
Wilson Kehoe Winingham LLC
2859 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 920-6400
wkw.com

[Editor’s Note: This is the second article Jon Noyes has written for the Indiana Law Review Blog. You can find his first article here.]


Indiana’s adult wrongful death statutes group individuals into two categories:  (1) adults who were married, or possessed dependent next of kin, or both; [1] and (2) adults who were not married and possessed no dependent next of kin. [2].  Which category the decedent falls into determines the measure of damages available. [3].

Under normal circumstances, this does not present a substantial obstacle.  It is usually easy to determine whether or not the decedent was married or possessed dependent next of kin.  This can be as simple as looking at the decedent’s death certificate.  However, what if it is impossible to determine whether the decedent possessed a spouse or dependents at the time of his or her death?  For example, how would a married couple be categorized if they had no dependents and died in a manner that left it impossible to determine who predeceased who?  Can the plaintiff show that the decedent meets the requirement of either?

The answer is no.  As discussed below, if two individuals that would normally be considered adults that were married expire simultaneously or in a manner that makes it impossible to determine who predeceased who, the plain language of the Wrongful Death Statute seems to indicate that it would be impossible to determine which measure of damages apply.  However, under principles of equity, the personal representatives of the decedents should be able to recover damages as if both individuals left surviving spouses.

Lori M. Craig
J.D. Candidate, 2014, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
B.A. 1997, Indiana University – Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana.
lori.m.craig@gmail.com

“’For Christ’s sake, let me die in peace!’ he said.
. . .
‘You know perfectly well you can do nothing to help me, so leave me alone.’
‘We can ease your suffering,’ said the doctor.
‘You can’t even do that; leave me alone.’
. . .
He drew in a breath, broke off in the middle of it, stretched himself out, and died.” [1].