Indiana Supreme Court hears Lake County wrongful death case
Woman died after hernia surgery, husband then died before lawsuit could be resolved
When a Highland woman died after hernia surgery, her husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
The man, however, died before the case was resolved, and attorneys are trying to figure out what damages still can be collected.
The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday in the civil case stemming from Lake County.
Timothy Schafer, the attorney representing Laura Shaner’s estate, argued that Shaner’s medical providers should still have to pay for the damages her husband experienced as a survivor after his wife’s death.
“There is no justifiable reason why the defense should be able to avoid accountability for the harms they caused to David Shaner over the nearly 10 years he lived without his wife due to the negligence of the defendants,” Schafer said.
But Libby Goodknight, the attorney representing the medical providers — Albert Milford, St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers and TRC-Indiana — said at oral arguments that because David Shaner had no heirs and no will, any money paid for survivor damages would go to the state. These damages are meant to compensate survivors, “not to punish the defendants,” Goodknight said.
Laura Shaner, 44, died in January 2006. In the wrongful death suit, David Shaner requested issue is “what happens when the survivor who would have collected the survivor damages has ceased being a ‘ survivor,’ ” the “damages for the loss of dedecision stated. cedent’s earnings and wages, loss “It’s a terribly unfortunate cirof the reasonable value of decumstance, but hopefully doesn’t cedent’s services and the loss of happen very often,” Justice love, affection, companionship, Steven David said Thursday. society, support and protection To collect “survivor damages,” provided by decedent,” court reSchafer argued that David Shaner cords state. is “only required to survive his
David Shaner first had to file a wife.” medical malpractice claim to a “Why would the fact that medical review panel before he David Shaner died without a will could proceed in court, according relieve a health care provider for to Schafer. Before his case was their negligent acts?” Schafer completed, David Shaner diedsaid.in
October 2015. M edical malpractice cases
“Ironically, the death of David tend to take roughly seven years, was also accelerated by his wife’s Schafer said, and “there’s always death because after her death he delays.” was lonely and couldn’t afford to “We have to protect the citilive on his own, forcing him to zens of Indiana. ... We have to move in with his mother where make sure the wrongdoers are he died of carbon monoxide held accountable for it and do not poisoning,” Schafer said. get the benefit of untimely death,”
After David Shaner died, the Schafer said. attorneys representing Laura These types of cases where a Shaner’s medical providers arsurvivor dies and there are no gued that the new representaheirs are “quite rare,” Goodknight tives for her estate, her brothers said. and father, should be limited only The damages aren’t meant to to final-expense damages. protect the general public or to be
The Indiana Court of Appeals punitive to the defendants, but agreed with the providers. Indiare instead meant to compensate ana’s wrongful death statute esspecific heirs, she said. tablishes two categories for dam“Regardless of what damages ages, according to the appeals are recovered, nobody is going to court’s decision. be able to compensated or made
“Final-expense damages” inwhole from those damages. They clude items, such as medical, would simply pass to the state, funeral, burial and estate adminwhich is contrary to really what istration expenses, the decision the intent of the wrongful death stated. “Survivor damages” inact was,” Goodknight said. clude items, such as lost earnings of a person who died, according to the decision.
In the case of the Shaners, the