Pennsylvania Courts Decide that a Mother Didn’t Have to Share Lawsuit Settlement Proceeds With Her Child’s Father
It is an unfortunate fact of life that, sometimes, a sudden receipt of a large sum of money brings about people seeking a portion of those funds. Perhaps it is a lottery win, a sizable inheritance, or a money judgment in a civil trial. If you’ve lost a loved one due to the misconduct of others, there are many steps that go into obtaining a successful outcome that can benefit from the assistance of an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney. Making sure that the proceeds of a court judgment go to the proper people is just one of them.
An example of such a situation played out in the family of a Philadelphia-area woman named Shireeta. Shireeta’s seven-year-old daughter, Lamiyah, died in a house fire in December 2011. After Lamiyah’s death, the mother filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of a curling iron and a power strip that, she claimed, were faulty and caused the fire. Shireeta, who was also the administrator of Lamiyah’s estate, eventually settled with the defendants. The defendants made an $8 million payout as part of the settlement.
As is true of many children, Lamiyah didn’t have a will. The law has a certain set of rules, called the rules of intestate succession, which dictate how assets should be distributed in cases in which the deceased person has no will. Generally, in most situations, the rules require that a child’s assets go 50-50 to each of her parents. In this case, that would have meant that Shireeta and Lamiyah’s father, Lamont, would split the settlement money equally.
There is, however, an exception to this rule, and it was one that the mother wisely used to her advantage. That exception, which is contained in something called Pennsylvania’s “forfeiture statute,” says that “a parent who fails to adequately support a child for at least a year prior to the child’s death has no right to a distribution from the child’s estate.” In other words, if you can prove that your child’s other parent did little or nothing to support the child for the 12 months (or more) preceding the child’s death, you do not have to share the child’s assets with the other parent.
That was exactly what the mother claimed and was able to prove. The father testified that he saw Lamiyah only once in the year before her death and a mere 12-13 times in the last six years. The father never gave the daughter Christmas or birthday gifts, and he never attended any of her birthday celebrations. Lamont admitted he had sent Shireeta a total of around $100-150 for support in the year prior to the daughter’s death. While the father alleged that the mother created barriers to his having a relationship with the daughter, he admitted that he never took any legal action to obtain an order of visitation or receive any other assistance from the legal system in having contact with the child.
This evidence was enough to persuade the courts that Lamont had failed to support Lamiyah financially, emotionally, or otherwise. This triggered the forfeiture statute and meant that the father was not entitled to receive anything from the settlement of the lawsuit.
While the underlying lawsuit that led to this case was one alleging defects with two products, it could just as easily have been a settlement of a lawsuit based upon a child’s death in an auto accident. The techniques and arguments used by the mother, and the rulings made by the courts in her case, apply just as much to settlements of auto accident or other personal injury cases as they do to product liability case settlements in which the victim was a minor child.
The skilled Pennsylvania wrongful death attorneys at Needle Law Firm have been providing knowledgeable representation and personalized attention to our clients for many years, aiding them at every step in the legal process from pre-trial to the collection of damages awards. Our team is ready to discuss your matter with you.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 570-344-1266.