How the Indiana Supreme Court Ruled in Wrongful Death Suit Involving Civil and Criminal Constitutional Interests
When an attorney litigates a civil suit concerning the wrongful death of their client, it is not uncommon for the defendant to simultaneously face criminal charges for their involvement contributing to the victim’s death; in other words, the defendant may be prosecuted criminally and pursued civilly at the same time.
In criminal proceedings, a defendant may invoke the Fifth Amendment so as not to incriminate him or herself. But if the defendant refuses to comply with discovery and deposition requests in the civil matter, the jury may infer defendant’s liability in the wrongful death of the plaintiff. On the other hand, if the defendant offers testimony and provides discovery responses in the civil suit, the prosecutor may use this information against him or her in the criminal proceedings.
Early 2012, Jason R. Cozmanoff was charged with 13 crimes including felony reckless homicide, while at the same time facing a civil law suit alleging gross negligence and/or willful and wanton misconduct in the wrongful death of Britney Meux [see Estate of Britney Meux v. Cozmanoff, 4 N.E. 3d 1148 (Ind. 2014)]. Cozmanoff was served with interrogatories and requests for production and his deposition was noticed.
Defendant Cozmanoff motioned the Court for a stay of all proceedings until the criminal matters had been resolved. Administrators for the Plaintiff’s estate objected to his motion under Article 1, Section 12 of the Indiana State Constitution guaranteeing justice…without delay [Emphasis Added].
The civil trial court entered an order staying all discovery with respect to Cozmanoff, but ordered him to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint.
On March 12, 2014, the Indiana State Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling stating:
“In light of the circumstances…we cannot disagree. Our ruling today does not mean the trial court was constitutionally required to impose the stay; simply that it did not abuse its discretion by so doing.”
Attorneys with more than 85 years of combined experience in injury and wrongful death litigation
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you. The lawyers at Ward & Ward have over 85 years of experience in wrongful death litigation. We maintain a good working knowledge of ever-developing legislation and judicial rulings that may affect the outcome of your case. Visit our website today and contact our Indianapolis office today.
By Charlie Ward