In February of 2009, the Kentucky Court of Appeals heard a case involving a stepchild whose father had passed away. Louisville personal injury attorney Andrew S. Alitowski explains that the issue in this case was whether the stepchild who had not been legally adopted was entitled to recover a share of the damages under Kentucky’s wrongful death statute? The case is Davis v. Johnson, 295 S.W.3d 841 (Crt.App. 2009), which held that the non-adopted child was not entitled to any of the monies. The facts are as follows.
In Davis, Mr. Clarence Davis died on February 20, 2003. Id. A wrongful death claim resulted in a $5 million award to his heirs. Id. Under Kentucky law, his children were entitled to share equally in one-half the net proceeds. Id. At the time of his death, Mr. Davis was married to Mrs. Kathy Davis. Ms. Nicole Johnson was the daughter of Mrs. Davis and Mr. Davis “acted as a father to her since her birth, although he never legally adopted her.” Id.
The original court ruled that Ms. Davis was not entitled to the monies. She appealed and that court ruled that she was. So then the case was appealed again and this time the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that she was not entitled to the monies.
The Court looked at the wrongful death statute and who was entitled to monies. The statute refers to “children” as some of the people that can inherit. The defendants point out the difference in the duty of support owed by a stepparent to an adopted child as opposed to an unadopted stepchild. Absent an adoption, stepparents have no duty to support stepchildren in the event of a divorce. (cites omitted). Id.
The plaintiff argued that Mr. Davis did support her with education, financially and with emotion support. Id. Plaintiff also argued and showed the court how in other facets of the legal world, stepchildren, even if not adopted, were entitled to some benefits when a parent died. For example in a worker’s compensation case or inheritance taxes. Id.
But, the Court did not buy this argument. In each of the above matters, the legislative body specifically put in the provisions to allow a stepchild those rights. And, in the case at hand, the wrongful death statute did not. And so the Court concluded that they intentionally left them out and thus the Court could not stretch the law and allow the plaintiff to recover.
And finally, the Court took a survey of other jurisdictions around and found that non had revealed any case holding that an unadopted stepchild may recover under the state’s wrongful death statute except in a few states.
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