Indiana Supreme Court Ruled in Wrongful Death Suit Involving Differing Constitutional Interests

Indiana Supreme Court Ruling in Wrongful Death Suit

Differing constitutional interests may arise when, in criminal proceedings, a defendant invokes 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.

Competing Interests in Simultaneous Civil Suit and Criminal Charges

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 actions contributing to the victim’s death; in other words, the defendant may experience criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit at the same time.

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.

Hardiman v. Cozmanoff – The Civil Suit

Early 2012, Jason R. Cozmanoff was charged with 13 crimes including felony reckless homicide, while at the same time facing a civil lawsuit alleging gross negligence and willful and wanton misconduct in the wrongful death of Britney Meux. A set of interrogatories, a request for production of documents, and a notice of deposition were given to Cozmanoff’s attorney.

Defendant Cozmanoff made a request that the civil court stay (or put a hold on) all proceedings until the development of a resolution of the criminal matters. 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 court entered an order staying all discovery with respect to Cozmanoff, but ordered him to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint.

The Supreme Court Ruling

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.”

So while the Supreme Court did not rule on the authority of the civil court’s decision, they did decide that the civil court did not abuse it’s authority to stay the discovery phase.

Attorneys with more than 100 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 Indianapolis, IN wrongful death lawyers at Ward & Ward Personal Injury Lawyers have over 85 years of experience in wrongful death litigation. We maintain a good working knowledge of laws and judicial rulings that may affect the outcome of your case. Visit our website today and contact our Indianapolis office today.

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