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Hardiman v. Cozmanoff

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 12, 2014

JOSEPH D. HARDIMAN AND JAKETA L. PATTERSON, AS CO-ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF BRITNEY R. MEUX, DECEASED, Appellants/Cross-Appellees (Plaintiffs below),
v.
JASON R. COZMANOFF, Appellee/Cross-Appellant (Defendant below)

Page 1149

Appeal from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45D11-1209-CT-214. The Honorable Diane Kavadias Schneider, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 45A03-1210-CT-437.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Adam J. Sedia, Dyer, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Edward W. Hearn, Crown Point, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Dickson, C.J., Rucker, David, and Rush, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 1150

Massa, Justice.

" Inevitably, in civil cases where related criminal charges are involved, tension will arise between plaintiffs' rights to a just and timely adjudication and defendants' rights to refuse to answer under the Fifth Amendment upon a reasonable fear of prosecution." Nat'l Acceptance Co. of Am. v. Bathalter,

Page 1151

705 F.2d 924, 932 (7th Cir. 1983) (internal citation omitted). The case we address today involves just this sort of tension; the civil trial court granted a limited stay of discovery against the defendant, but ordered him to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. Both sides appealed, and we now affirm the trial court in all respects.

Facts and Procedural History

On March 6, 2012, correctional officer Britney Meux was jogging with three co-workers when she was hit by a car. The driver fled the scene, and Meux later died from her injuries. Three days later, the State charged the alleged driver, Jason R. Cozmanoff, with thirteen crimes, including one count of reckless homicide as a Class C felony and three counts of criminal recklessness resulting in serious injury, all as Class D felonies.

A few weeks later, Meux's Estate sued Cozmanoff for wrongful death, alleging he was " negligent, reckless, and guilty of gross negligence and/or willful and wanton misconduct." Appellant's App. at 12. The Estate began the discovery process on April 27 by serving Cozmanoff with interrogatories and requests for production and by noticing his deposition.

This put Cozmanoff in a difficult position; if he were to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to comply with the Estate's discovery requests, the civil jury could infer he is liable for causing Meux's death. Gash v. Kohm, 476 N.E.2d 910, 913 (Ind.Ct.App. 1985) (" Although the refusal to testify in a civil case cannot be used against the one asserting the privilege in a subsequent criminal proceeding, the privilege against self-incrimination does not prohibit the trier of fact in a civil case from drawing adverse inferences from a witness'[s] refusal to testify." (internal citations omitted)). On the other hand, if Cozmanoff were ...


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