The Missouri Court of Appeals in the Eastern District released an opinion today declaring that George "Larry" Eby and Christine Trampler -- the parents of the late Adrienne Nicole Martin, former girlfriend of St. Louis beer scion August Busch IV -- have the right to join in on the wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this year on behalf of Martin's young son, Blake.
The three appellate judges, who ruled unanimously, cited Missouri's Wrongful Death statute, which gives equal power to a decedent's spouse, children and parents when it comes to recovering damages.
The decision means that Martin's mother and estranged father could possibly receive a piece of any settlement pie. It also means that Busch, who has kept a low profile since Martin's death and originally sought to settle the matter quickly, won't be shedding his legal baggage any time soon.
A little more than a year ago, on December 19, 2010, Adrienne Nicole Martin died at Busch's home after an accidental oxycodone overdose. (Cocaine was also found in her system.) In March, Blake's father, Dr. Kevin Martin of Cape Girardeau, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the boy, who was eight years old at the time. Rather than go to trial, Busch agreed to a $1.5 million settlement.
But in April, Eby and Trampler, who live downstate, filed motions to intervene in the suit, claiming that they, too, should be eligible for any damage payout and have a say in legal strategy. In May, a circuit court judge in Cape Girardeau, where the case had been transferred, denied the motions of Eby and Trampler, who promptly appealed to a higher court. Now that the appellate judges have sided with Martin's parents, the case will return to Cape Girardeau for a new hearing.
In his opinion Judge Kenneth M. Romines explains that a decedent's parents and children belong to the same "class" of kinfolk as far as wrongful death suits are concerned. He writes: "The Court holds that while the statute does not require the joinder of all persons identified in that subsection to proceed with a wrongful death suit, if those persons make a timely attempt to intervene, they have 'an absolute right to join' and are entitled to intervene as a matter of right."