Elder Law of Louisville's Blog

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Landmark wrongful death lawsuit against high school football coach settled.

Louisville, Kentucky is home to an unprecedented lawsuit.  A high school football coach and 5 assistant coaches were  sued for wrongful death by the parents of a player who died of heat stroke during practice.  The head coach was also charged criminally, but was later acquitted.  It was the first time ever in the country that a high school or college coach was charged criminally for causing a player's heat-related death.  The parents and coaches settled the wrongful death civil lawsuit today, with the parents receiving $1.75 million.  They say the money will be used to finance the Max Gilpin Beat the Heat Foundation.

This case is interesting to me because of what could have happened.  Had Max Gilpin, the student, survived he likely would have suffered life long mental and/or physical disabilities.  His parents would be using the settlement money not to finance a non-profit organization, but to fund a special needs trust.  The trust would allow Max to receive state disability benefits while maintaining some access to the money for extra niceties.  It means the family would not have to exhaust every penny of that settlement paying for medical expenses before getting state benefits.

A special needs trust can pay for anything related to the beneficiary's disabilites, except food, shelter, clothing or medical expenses already covered by the state benefits.  The special needs trust would allow the money to sit untouched and grow.  Or, it allows the family to spend the money on medical expenses not paid for by the state benefits, extending the life of the settlement funds.  Or, it allows the family to spend the money on some niceties.  Some examples include retro fitting the house to be handicap accessible, purchasing a vehicle to transport Max, or paying for in-home care services.  Trust money could also be used to pay for companionship services to give Max's parents a break, to purchase specialized computers, televisions, telephones or other equipment, or even pay to send Max on vacation with a caregiver.  The list is almost endless.

Regardless of whether disabilities are present at birth or are the result of an accident, a special needs trust is a form of asset protection.  It allows the disabled individual to obtain government benefits to pay for the bulk of the medical expenses, leaving the trust assets free to pay for other things or to sit there as a safety net.  If you are disabled or have a loved one with disabilities, you should consult with a special needs attorney to see if this type of trust is right for you.

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