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Ruling depletes availability of damages in wrongful death case

An insurance policy provision may prevent a mother from pursuing a legitimate claim for damages. A court’s decision in a nearby state came down to the meaning of three words. The ruling shows Kansas litigants that judges and juries often interpret language to the letter of the law.

The words “in your care” caused an insurance company to dispute whether it was obligated to defend a policyholder in a wrongful death action brought by his girlfriend. The man caused a fatal accident that resulted in the death of the woman’s 6-year-old daughter.

The unmarried couple developed a personal relationship in 2006. Within the next year, the man purchased a home where he, his girlfriend and her two daughters lived. The children readily accepted their “dad.” The boyfriend named the girls as beneficiaries in his retirement plan, despite the absence of plans for marriage or adoption.

In Oct. 2007, the man was operating a skid loader on the property when he struck and killed his girlfriend’s daughter. The couple remained together for a year but eventually parted because of the girl’s death. The woman then brought a wrongful death claim against the ex-boyfriend.

The man’s insurer argued it was not obligated to defend the ex-boyfriend. A household exclusion in the man’s policy denied coverage to people “in the care” of a policyholder. The provision is designed to prevent relatives or household members from trying to defraud an insurer.

A court refused to issue a summary judgment in the case and pushed the matter to trial. A court ruled the child, although not a legal relative, was “in the care” of the boyfriend at the time of her death and was not covered by insurance. An appeals court affirmed the decision.

The goal of a wrongful death lawsuit is compensation for a loss. The case may be stalled or abandoned when a defendant is incapable of paying damages.

Source:  courthousenews.com, "No Help in Sad Death of Young Girl" Jeff D. Gorman, Apr. 23, 2013

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