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Estate Able to Keep Damages from Patient’s Compensation Fund

November 12, 2014

William Troy Clark was divorced from his wife, Kimi Clark, with whom he had two children. Shortly thereafter was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, and he began drinking alcohol excessively. He worked as an ironworker in Terre Haute. While his drinking problem escalated, Mr. Clark began having "legal troubles.” In July of 2001, while in jail, he suffered alcohol-withdrawal symptoms, which the jail failed to recognize and treat, and which resulted in his death.

Mr. Clark's Estate filed suit against Vigo County and the jail physician responsible for medical care in the Vigo County Jail. The county settled for $300,000 and the jail physician settled for $250,000. The Estate then petitioned the Patient's Compensation Fund ("PCF") for excess damages. Before trial, the parties stipulated that the Estate had already recovered $550,000 in the underlying lawsuit.

After a bench trial, the trial court awarded Clark's Estate "excess damages in the amount of" $465,000. It was unsure whether this meant an additional $465,000 or $0 because of the lack of excess damages of the original $550,000. The PCF appealed the damages award because (i) it failed to specify whether the judgment accounted for set-off for the settlements received by the Estate and (ii) the trial court did not clarify what damages, if any, it awarded for Clark's lost earning capacity. The case was remanded with instructions to calculate the total damages to which Clark's Estate is entitled, then to subtract from those damages the prior settlement. In addition, the trial court was instructed in calculating the damages to determine whether Clark's estate is entitled to damages for lost earning capacity.

When recalculating the damages, the PCF failed to include evidence that would deduct from the Estate’s damages (decedent’s history of incarceration and alcoholism) and the trial court’s damages award was affirmed.

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