Family's death damages are limited--but not eliminated
Michael Jago was killed when his car was struck broadside by a State Police cruiser at an intersection. Lesley Jago sued the State Police on behalf of herself and Michael's minor son. The State Police argued that it owed no damages to Jago's family, even if the driver of the cruiser was negligent, raising several statutory arguments.Because Jago's car was uninsured, he was disqualified from claiming any non-economic losses under the no fault law. The Court held that this limitation also applied to Jago's family and that they were precluded from claiming damages for loss of his society and companionship. Because Jago's insurer would have been obligated to pay the first three years of "survivor's benefits" (i.e., wage loss and domestic services; the loss of "tangible things of economic value"), the State Police were also exempt from paying those damages.
The Defendants argued that they were also immune from any obligation to pay for future economic support. The State Police argued that under the pertinent statute, they are liable only for damages resulting from "bodily injury" and since Jago's wife and daughter suffered no "bodily injury," they cannot collect for Jago's lost earnings and support. This argument was actually upheld by the Engler Majority on the Supreme Court, believe it or not, to eliminate a wife's consortium claim arising out of her husband's spinal injuries, so the State wasn't raising a defense as specious as it may sound when examined only with common sense.
Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals held that the dependent's survivor's loss economic benefits payable under the No Fault Act and the Wrongful Death Act are payable only because of Jago's "bodily injury" and therefore his dependants are not entirely foreclosed from any recovery against the negligent police officer's employer. Now we'll have to see if the current Republican majority on the Supreme Court agrees. By history, they may uphold any argument that is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained by insurance interests in order to defeat an injury claim.