Wis. Court: Adult Children Can Collect for Suffering in Wrongful Death Suits

June 4, 2007

Adult children whose parents die can collect damages for pain and suffering in wrongful death lawsuits, a state appeals court ruled last week (May 31).

Madison-based American Family Insurance had argued that only minor children could recover damages for loss of society and companionship after the death of a parent.

The appeals court rejected the argument in its first interpretation of a state law that limits such damages to $350,000 for a deceased adult. Only spouses, children or parents can collect.

American Family had argued “children” meant only those under the age of 18 but the appeals court said the term includes all offspring.

The court’s decision reinstates a damage claim filed by the adult daughter of a woman killed in a snowmobile accident in 2002. A Lincoln County judge had tossed out the claim, siding with American Family.

Christina Pierce filed suit against American Family because the driver of the snowmobile carrying her mother, Shirley Pierce of Tomahawk, had a liability insurance policy through the company.

Although the claim for her loss of companionship was dismissed, a jury awarded Pierce $234,000 in damages for lost economic support and inheritance.

The appeals court also upheld that award, rejecting American Family’s claims that it was excessive and based on flawed expert testimony.

The decision sends the case back to Lincoln County for additional proceedings on the pain and suffering claim.

American Family spokesman Stephen Witmer said the ruling’s effect was unclear.

“It’s difficult at this point to predict an impact on business practices or future court rulings,” he said.

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