2012 Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations
895. Damages, liability, and miscellaneous provisions regarding actions in courts.
895.04 Plaintiff in wrongful death action.

WI Stat § 895.04 (2012 through Act 45) What's This?

895.04 Plaintiff in wrongful death action.

895.04(1) (1) An action for wrongful death may be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person or by the person to whom the amount recovered belongs.

895.04(2) (2) If the deceased leaves surviving a spouse or domestic partner under ch.770 and minor children under 18 years of age with whose support the deceased was legally charged, the court before whom the action is pending, or if no action is pending, any court of record, in recognition of the duty and responsibility of a parent to support minor children, shall determine the amount, if any, to be set aside for the protection of such children after considering the age of such children, the amount involved, the capacity and integrity of the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner, and any other facts or information it may have or receive, and such amount may be impressed by creation of an appropriate lien in favor of such children or otherwise protected as circumstances may warrant, but such amount shall not be in excess of 50% of the net amount received after deduction of costs of collection. If there are no such surviving minor children, the amount recovered shall belong and be paid to the spouse or domestic partner of the deceased; if no spouse or domestic partner survives, to the deceased's lineal heirs as determined by s. 852.01; if no lineal heirs survive, to the deceased's brothers and sisters. If any such relative dies before judgment in the action, the relative next in order shall be entitled to recover for the wrongful death. A surviving nonresident alien spouse or a nonresident alien domestic partner under ch. 770 and minor children shall be entitled to the benefits of this section. In cases subject to s. 102.29 this subsection shall apply only to the surviving spouse's or surviving domestic partner's interest in the amount recovered. If the amount allocated to any child under this subsection is less than $10,000, s. 807.10 may be applied. Every settlement in wrongful death cases in which the deceased leaves minor children under 18 years of age shall be void unless approved by a court of record authorized to act hereunder.

895.04(3) (3) If separate actions are brought for the same wrongful death, they shall be consolidated on motion of any party. Unless such consolidation is so effected that a single judgment may be entered protecting all defendants and so that satisfaction of such judgment shall extinguish all liability for the wrongful death, no action shall be permitted to proceed except that of the personal representative.

895.04(4) (4) Judgment for damages for pecuniary injury from wrongful death may be awarded to any person entitled to bring a wrongful death action. Additional damages not to exceed $500,000 per occurrence in the case of a deceased minor, or $350,000 per occurrence in the case of a deceased adult, for loss of society and companionship may be awarded to the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, or to the siblings of the deceased, if the siblings were minors at the time of the death.

895.04(5) (5) If the personal representative brings the action, the personal representative may also recover the reasonable cost of medical expenses, funeral expenses, including the reasonable cost of a cemetery lot, grave marker and care of the lot. If a relative brings the action, the relative may recover such medical expenses, funeral expenses, including the cost of a cemetery lot, grave marker and care of the lot, on behalf of himself or herself or of any person who has paid or assumed liability for such expenses.

895.04(6) (6) Where the wrongful death of a person creates a cause of action in favor of the decedent's estate and also a cause of action in favor of a spouse, domestic partner under ch. 770, or relatives as provided in this section, such spouse, domestic partner, or relatives may waive and satisfy the estate's cause of action in connection with or as part of a settlement and discharge of the cause of action of the spouse, domestic partner, or relatives.

895.04(7) (7) Damages found by a jury in excess of the maximum amount specified in sub. (4) shall be reduced by the court to such maximum. The aggregate of the damages covered by subs. (4) and (5) shall be diminished under s. 895.045 if the deceased or person entitled to recover is found negligent.

History: 1971 c. 59; Sup. Ct. Order, 67 Wis. 2d 585, 784 (1975); 1975 c. 94 s. 91 (3); 1975 c. 166, 199, 287, 421, 422; 1979 c. 166; 1983 a. 315; 1985 a. 130; 1989 a. 307; 1991 a. 308; 1997 a. 89, 290; 2009 a. 28, 276.

Statutory increases in damage limitations recoverable in wrongful death actions constitute changes in substantive rights and not mere remedial changes. Bradley v. Knutson, 62 Wis. 2d 432, 215 N.W.2d 369 (1974).

A parent may maintain an action for loss of aid, comfort, society, and companionship of an injured minor child on the condition that the parents' cause of action is combined with that of the child for the child's personal injuries. Shockley v. Prier, 66 Wis. 2d 394, 225 N.W.2d 495 (1975).

In an action for wrongful death by 2 children of the deceased, the plaintiffs' failure to join 3 other siblings who would otherwise have been indispensable parties was not fatal to the court's subject matter jurisdiction because affidavits submitted to the trial court indicated that the 3 siblings were unavailable. Kochel v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. 66 Wis. 2d 405, 225 N.W.2d 604 (1975).

A judgment under sub. (2) means a final, not interlocutory, judgment. Collins v. Gee, 82 Wis. 2d 376, 263 N.W.2d 158 (1978).

The trial court in a wrongful death action should inform the jury of statutory limitations on recovery, if any. Peot v. Ferraro, 83 Wis. 2d 727, 266 N.W.2d 586 (1978).

A posthumous illegitimate child may not maintain an action for the wrongful death of the putative father. Robinson v. Kolstad, 84 Wis. 2d 579, 267 N.W.2d 886 (1978).

This section does not require that proceeds be equally divided between parents. Keithley v. Keithley, 95 Wis. 2d 136, 289 N.W.2d 368 (Ct. App. 1980).

Punitive damages are not recoverable incident to damages for wrongful death. Wangen v. Ford Motor Co. 97 Wis. 2d 260, 294 N.W.2d 437 (1980).

This section does not permit an estate to recover, on its own behalf, damages for the decedent's pecuniary loss. Weiss v. Regent Properties, Ltd. 118 Wis. 2d 225, 346 N.W.2d 766 (1984).

Recovery under sub. (7) is barred by s. 895.045 if a decedent's negligence was greater than any individual tortfeasor's. Delvaux v. Vanden Langenberg, 130 Wis. 2d 464, 387 N.W.2d 751 (1986).

A spouse's claim under sub. (4) for loss of society and companionship is additional to a common law claim for loss of consortium prior to the death of the deceased. Kottka v. PPG Industries, Inc. 130 Wis. 2d 499, 388 N.W.2d 160 (1986).

A person who "feloniously and intentionally" kills his or her spouse is not a surviving spouse for purposes of sub. (2) and is treated as having predeceased the decedent. Stienbarth v. Johannes, 144 Wis. 2d 159, 423 N.W.2d 540 (1988).

"Pecuniary injury" under sub. (4) includes the loss of any benefit, including social security disability benefits, that a plaintiff would have received from the decedent. Estate of Holt v. State Farm, 151 Wis. 2d 455, 444 N.W.2d 453 (Ct. App. 1989).

This section is inapplicable in medical malpractice actions. There is no cause of action in an adult child for the loss of society and companionship of a parent. Dziadosz v. Zirneski, 177 Wis. 2d 59, 501 N.W.2d 828 (Ct. App. 1993).

The damage limitation under sub. (4) is inapplicable to medical malpractice actions in which death resulted. Sub. (2) does not prevent a minor from bringing an action for a loss of companionship when malpractice causes a parent's death, including when the decedent is survived by a spouse. Jelinik v. St. Paul Fire & Casualty Ins. Co. 182 Wis. 2d 1, 512 N.W.2d 764 (1994).

Although only one parent was the named insured under an uninsured motorist insurance policy paying benefits for the wrongful death of the parents' child, this section requires payment of the proceeds to both parents. Bruflat v. Prudential Property & Casualty Insurance Co. 2000 WI App 69, 233 Wis. 2d 523, 608 N.W.2d 371, 99-2049.

Retroactive increases in the statutory damage limits were unconstitutional. Neiman v. American National Property & Casualty Co. 2000 WI 83, 236 Wis. 2d 411, 613 N.W.2d 160, 99-2554. See also Schultz v. Natwick, 2002 WI 125, 257 Wis. 2d 19, 653 N.W.2d 266, 00-0361.

The rule that one who claims subrogation rights, whether under the aegis of either legal or conventional subrogation, is barred from any recovery unless the insured is made whole is applicable in wrongful death actions. Wrongful death plaintiffs are entitled to be made whole for their losses, but not more than whole. To the extent that wrongful death plaintiffs receive a portion of damages for expenses they have not incurred after having been made whole, they have been unjustly enriched. Petta v. ABC Insurance Co. 2005 WI 18, 278 Wis. 2d 251, 692 N.W.2d 639, 03-0610.

Sub. (4) does not: 1) nullify the state constitutional right to have a jury assess damages under Art. I, s 5; 2) violate separation of powers principles by blurring the boundaries between judicial and legislative branches; 3) violate constitutional equal protection guarantees; and 4) does not violate substantive due process. Maurin v. Hall, 2004 WI 100, 274 Wis. 2d 28, 682 N.W.2d 866, 00-0072. Partially overruled on other grounds. Bartholomew v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund, 2006 WI 91, 293 Wis. 2d 38, 717 N.W.2d 26, 04-2592.

The jury award of noneconomic damages for pre-death claims, namely the claim for the decedent's pre-death pain and suffering, and the jury award for pre-death loss of society and companionship are governed by the cap set forth in the medical malpractice statutes, s. 893.55, and not the wrongful death statute, this section. Bartholomew v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund, 2006 WI 91, 293 Wis. 2d 38, 717 N.W.2d 216, 04-2592.

Parents of minor children have separate claims for pre-death and post-death loss of society and companionship, and damages are not capped by the wrongful-death limit. Hegarty v. Beauchaine, 2006 WI App 248, 297 Wis. 2d 70, 727 N.W.2d 857, 04-3252.

Under s. 895.01 (1) (o) and sub. (2), a wrongful death claim does not survive the death of the claimant. In a non-medical malpractice wrongful death case, under sub. (2), a new cause of action is available to the next claimant in the statutory hierarchy. In a medical malpractice wrongful death case, eligible claimants under s. 655.007 are not subject to a statutory hierarchy like claimants under sub. (2). However, in a medical malpractice wrongful death case, adult children of the deceased are not listed as eligible claimants and are therefore not eligible because of the exclusivity of s. 655.007, as interpreted in Czapinski. Lornson v. Siddiqui, 2007 WI 92, 302 Wis. 2d 519, 735 N.W.2d 55, 05-2315.

Because the legislature modified "children" with "minor" in a different subsection of this section of the statute, the only reasonable interpretation of the legislature's unmodified use of the word "children" in sub. (4) is that the term includes both adult and minor children. Pierce v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, 2007 WI App 152, 303 Wis. 2d 726, 736 N.W.2d 247, 06-1773.

This section does not provide for the recovery of lost inheritance by a party on behalf of a class of heirs. Despite the use of the plural "lineal heirs," the statute clearly contemplates that each relative will, in turn, have the right to bring an action for wrongful death. The use of the plural "heirs" encompasses exactly the situation when two or more heirs in the same tier of succession in the statutory hierarchy bring a wrongful death action together. Estate of Lamers v. American Hardware Mutual Insurance Co. 2008 WI App 165, 314 Wis. 2d 731, 761 N.W.2d 38, 07-2793.

A surviving spouse cannot disclaim a wrongful death claim under s. 854.13 so as to pass ownership of that claim to the deceased's lineal heirs. Bowen v. American Family Insurance Company, 2012 WI App 29, 340 Wis. 2d 232, 811 N.W.2d 887, 11-0185.

Sub. (4) does not expand the class of claimants who may recover loss of society and companionship damages beyond those who may recover for wrongful death under subs. (1) and (2). Sub. (4) limits the availability of loss of society and companionship damages to certain persons within the class of claimants entitled to bring wrongful death actions. Bowen v. American Family Insurance Company, 2012 WI App 29, 340 Wis. 2d 232, 811 N.W.2d 887, 11-0185.

There may not be separate recovery for both an estate and its beneficiaries. Bell v. City of Milwaukee, 746 F.2d 1205 (1984).

Expanding and limiting damages for pecuniary injury due to wrongful death. Schoone, 1972 WBB No. 4.

Cause of action by parents sustained for loss of society and companionship of child tortiously injured. 1976 WLR 641.

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