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Triathlon Leads to Wrongful Death Case and an Indemnity Agreement

footRichard Angelo was a member of a triathlon organization, USA Triathlon since 2011.  As part of his membership, he electronically signed and agreed to a waiver and release of liability.  Additionally, he purported to have assumed any risk of his involvement with the organization and agreed to indemnify and hold harmless the organization from any claims associated with any potential injury.  On February 17, 2012, Richard registered for a National Age Group Championship with the defendant organization that was to be held that summer. While participating in the triathlon, Richard tragically died during the swimming portion of the event.  Richard’s wife was named the Personal Representative of his estate and subsequently brought a claim for wrongful death against the defendant organization.  Additionally, she alleged conscious pain and suffering, gross negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress in Essex Superior Court.

The defendant organization counterclaimed for indemnity against any liability and legal costs associated with the pursuit of the claim pursuant to the indemnity agreements that Richard signed prior to his involvement with the organization.  The organization asked for the court to award a motion for summary judgment in it’s favor due to the fact that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact.  Put differently, a court may award summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case.

The defendant argued that because the decedent (Richard) signed a release and indemnity agreement for all claims that were to arise from his participation in the National Age Group Championship, no liability can attach to the organization.  The Plaintiff, in response, argued that the release would not pertain to her claims for wrongful death or for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court held that contracts of indemnity can survive a person’s death and be considered an obligation of a decedent’s estate.  However, as the Court further articulated, a claim for wrongful death is brought by a personal representative on behalf of the designated categories of beneficiaries.  Any and all money that is acquired in pursuit of the claim is not a general asset of the estate but designated for distribution to the statutory beneficiaries.  The Court, relying on previous case law on the matter, detailed that wrongful death is not a claim of the decedent, but rather, the beneficiaries of the estate.

The indemnity agreement stated that the estate was to indemnify the organization from any losses arising from a claim predicated on wrongful death.  As such, the organization was entitled to indemnity.  However, the court looked to see where the organization may look to, for funds, in satisfying the indemnity obligation.  While the organization may look to the assets of the decedent’s estate to satisfy that obligation- the organization cannot look to any recovery on the wrongful death claim for satisfaction.  The money recovered in damages for the wrongful death claim will never be “part of” the decedent’s estate, but rather, held in trust for the statutory beneficiaries and not an asset of the estate.  So if the Plaintiff is granted recovery on her Wrongful Death claim, the Defendant must find money to satisfy that claim outside damages awarded in this matter.

As such, the Court ruled that the motion for summary judgment by the Defendant would be allowed in part and denied in part.  To read more on the above referenced case, please see Cheryl Angelo, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Angelo v. USA Triathon, which can be found on the United States District Court’s website for the District of Massachusetts.  If you believe you have a wrongful death case, our office can help you. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.