Trial court's wrongful death allocation is upheld on appeal
Jennifer M. Barker was killed in a motor vehicle collision and the wrongful death proceeds were allocated by the Macomb County Probate Court. Jennifer's mother appealed the Probate Judge's decision, arguing that it was an abuse of discretion because the Judge awarded her less than the father/Personal Representative had recommended she receive.On appeal, the panel of judges pointed out that an allocation decision of this nature would be overturned only in the event of "clear error." Claims for the loss of the society and companionship of the decedent are calculated based upon the destruction of family relationships caused by death. They require assessment of the type of relationship that existed, as determined by the objective behavior of the parties "as indicated by the time and activity shared and the overall characteristics of the relationship."
Using this standard, the appellate judges pointed out that the decedent's father was her "primary caretaker" and enjoyed a healthy, relatively strong relationship with her, while a treating counselor described the mother's relationship as "comparatively weak" and subject to frequent disagreements and abandonment issues. On this basis, the Court held that the trial judge did not commit reversible error in his allocation of damages.