Same-Sex Benefits Tested

Indiana’s wrongful death statute is about to be tested by two survivors of the deadly August stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.

Two lesbian women whose partners were killed during the incident have filed wrongful death claims that could challenge the way the state defines next of kin in such cases.

Currently, Indiana views next of kin as people related by DNA, adoption or marriage – a status that affords them the opportunity to collect damages from wrongful death suits. But time will tell what the state makes of the cases filed by Alisha Brennon, whose partner Christina Santiago died in the collapse, or Beth Urschel, whose partner Tammy VanDam also died.

Brennon and Santiago had reportedly gone through a civil union in Illinois and Urschel and VanDam had registered as reciprocal beneficiaries in Hawaii.

Indiana doesn’t recognize same-sex unions, but the state could choose to widen its definition of next of kin to include people who live together, have children together, or are committed to sharing their lives, legal scholars say.

Attorneys for Brennon and Urschel, who were also injured during the collapse, could argue that the women have experienced the same losses as families of other victims of the incident.

If the court does rule in their favor, Brennon and Urschel would be entitled to collect wrongful death benefits of up to $5 million each for the incident. Indiana is one of 33 states that cap state liability at a maximum of $5 million per occurrence.