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THE INEQUITY OF THE PRESENT MISSISSIPPI WRONGFUL DEATH STATUTE: A PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE
AuthorHarris, David Neil
AdvisorMarsh, Shawn C.
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AbstractThis paper proposes legislation to identify and clarify beneficiaries who take under the Mississippi Wrongful Death Statute. This paper reviews the disconnect between Circuit Court wrongful death actions, Chancery Court wrongful death settlements, and who should equitably receive wrongful death settlements. In Mississippi, the Circuit Court serves as the court of law and the Chancery Court serves as the court of equity. The new amended proposed statute would permit Circuit Judges and/or Juries in Circuit Court and Chancellors in the Chancery Court to make a factor-based finding of dependency or other viable relationship with the decedent prior to the distribution of wrongful death proceeds to beneficiaries. The present Mississippi Wrongful Death Statute allows errant parents, half-bloods, and adopted-out children to share equally in wrongful death proceeds regardless of lack of dependency and lack of a viable relationship with the decedent. Only after applying the factors required under the new amended statute proposed here would parents, half-bloods and adopted-out children share in the wrongful death proceeds. Additionally, stepchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and others who were dependents or had a viable relationship with the decedent could share in wrongful death proceeds based on their dependency or viable relationship. This paper provides a brief history of the cases and statutes regarding wrongful death and reviews the Mississippi Wrongful Death Statute and selected cases decided under it. Support for a new Mississippi Wrongful Death Statute exists when comparing the Mississippi Wrongful Death Statute to other i jurisdictions, the Mississippi Worker’s Compensation Law, and Federal Law. Other jurisdictions and statutes require dependency and/or a relationship with the decedent to distribute wrongful death proceeds. The new proposed factor-based amended statute would provide a more equitable, effective, and less confusing result. This paper will examine real life cases heard and decided by the writer as a sitting Chancellor in Chancery Court.