Law School Case Brief
Mundell v. Beverly Enters.-Indiana, Inc. - 778 F. Supp. 459 (S.D. Ind. 1991)
To withstand a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a pleading must meet the standard set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) calling for a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. The statement of the claim must give fair notice of its basis and supporting ground. The court must review this statement, construing it in favor of the plaintiff and taking all factual allegations in it as true, to determine whether plaintiff has set forth facts supporting a cause of action which would entitle him to relief. However, the court is not required to accept legal conclusions, or inferences or allegations unwarranted by the facts as presented in the pleadings
The resident brought an action against the nursing home for injuries he received while he resided there, including dehydration, malnourishment, hyponeratremtia, a scrotal abscess, and gangrenous testicles. One count of the resident's complaint sought punitive damages. After the resident died, the administrator of his estate was substituted as plaintiff. The nursing home then sought dismissal of the punitive damages count, claiming that punitive damages did not survive the death of the resident.
Did the claims for punitive damages survive the death of the nursing home resident?
The court held that, although a recent change in Indiana law had broadened the damages recoverable by a deceased plaintiff's estate, the Indiana legislature did not intend to allow claims for punitive damages to survive a deceased plaintiff. Punitive damages are an established part of the recovery available to living plaintiffs in personal injury cases. However, Indiana common law prohibits the survival of a cause of action when the plaintiff dies. Thus, the survival statute must be interpreted as a statute in derogation of common law because it changes common law. The legislature is presumed to have been fully aware of the possibility of allowing punitive damages as part of the recovery in a suit continued by a deceased plaintiff's representative. Based on this presumption, and without an explicit statement or unmistakable implication to the contrary, the legislature did not intend to permit the recovery of punitive damages under the survival statute. Therefore, it should be not be interpreted as allowing punitive damages. Accordingly, the court granted the nursing home's motion to dismiss.
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