Court analyzes conflict of interest between family members in wrongful death claim
Richard Chenault died when his airplane crashed in Lake Michigan. His wife was appointed the Personal Representative of his Estate and she hired attorneys well-known for aviation expertise to pursue a wrongful death claim. Meanwhile, his ex-wife who is the mother of his daughter, Kayla, was appointed Conservator of the daughter's estate. In Michigan, all claims by any family member must be pursued by the Personal Representative of the Decedent's Estate within a single wrongful death action. As Conservator, Richard's ex-wife argued that a conflict of interest would prevent the current wife's attorneys from adequately representing her daughter. The Probate Court disagreed and upheld the appointment of the P.R.'s choice of attorneys. In response, the ex-wife filed her own lawsuit in Texas against the alleged at-fault parties [presumably the manufacturer or re-manufacturer of the aircraft].
The Probate Court found the ex-wife to be in contempt of the earlier ruling recognizing the P.R.'s choice of attorneys to pursue the integrated wrongful death claim. It held that if the ex-wife believed that a conflict of interest precluded the P.R.'s attorney from representing the child, the conflict should have been raised in the Michigan court and resolved there. The Court of Appeals disagreed with some of the lower court's reasoning but upheld its contempt order awarding $45,000.00 in fees to the Estate against the ex-wife.