Anyone who has dealt in the administration of an estate knows the amount of work that goes into it. Whether it be the estate of a recently passed loved one, a family member, or a friend, administration of an estate becomes tough due to the emotions typically involved with the passing of someone close to you. You may find yourself asking what to do? Where do you go for questions? What rights does a deceased individual’s estate continue to have? The Indiana Supreme Court touched on this last question in its recent decision of Estate of Shaner v. Milford1.
In the Estate of Shaner, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that a claim for survivorship damages does indeed survive the death of an individual, regardless of if that individual has heirs. The relevant facts are as follows: David Shaner brought a wrongful death claim against a hospital and doctors following the death of his wife, Laura Shaner. Part of David’s claim of damages was for the loss of consortium. David died shortly thereafter, leaving no will and no heirs to inherit his estate. Following his death, the Defendants filed for partial summary judgment on David’s claim of loss of consortium, arguing that, “because of David’s death, there was no evidence to support a claim for loss of consortium damages.” The Trial Court agreed with the Defendant’s and granted their motion for partial summary judgment. In doing so, the Trial Court relied on the facts that there was no will and there were no heirs, therefore no evidence of loss of consortium could be presented. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Trial Court and upheld the grant of partial summary judgment.
In reversing the Trial Court and the Court of Appeals, the Indiana Supreme Court pointed out the “plain language” of the survivorship statute2. The statute specifically states that a “cause of action survives and may be brought by or against the representative of the deceased party.” As such, the Court found that because the claim does not abate pursuant to the statute, David’s claim could have survived, regardless of the existence of heirs. The Court goes on to note that it was Laura’s estate, not David’s estate, who brought the challenge following David’s death. The Supreme Court was not convinced that Laura’s estate was the proper estate to bring the challenge, implying that it should have been brought by David’s estate. As such, the Court remanded the case back to the trial court level. Thus, skilled estate attorneys knew how to preserve this valuable right, namely David’s loss of consortium, despite having to appeal.
This case highlights the importance of the ever-changing legal landscape in the law. Knowing the status of developments in the law is the key to ensuring your rights are protected, as well as being an engaged citizenry in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who are aware of caselaw developments in their practice areas and handle all areas of probate and estate law across the state, as well as appeals. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- James T. Horejs, James Harris, and Robert Horejs, as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Laura A Shaner, Deceased v. Albert Milford, D.O., St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers, Inc., and TRC-Indiana LLC d/b/a Comprehensive Renal Care-Munster d/b/a DaVita, Inc., 19S-CT-97 (Ind. 2019).
- Ind. Code 34-9-3-1.