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5/4/2011 2:10:00 PM
Appeals Court: Adopted children cannot sue over loss of biological parent

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Children who are adopted lose their legal right to sue over the death of a biological parent, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The judges said laws which allow survivors to claim damages create a "limited class of beneficiaries.' That includes a spouse, child, parent or guardian.

But Judge Peter Swann, writing for the court, said an adoption takes a survivor out of the definition of a person's child.

The case involves Edward Hintz, killed in 2005 when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle driven by William Heckman. Nome Edonna sued as his sole surviving heir.

Swann noted, though, that Edonna's parents divorced when he was four. Contact was off and on again for years.

When Edonna was 13 his stepfather adopted him to be sure he would be taken care of financially and medically. Swann said Hintz agreed to the adoption.

As Edonna became an adult, he did become closer to his biological father.

Swann said, though, all that is legally irrelevant. He said it was up to the Legislature to decide who could sue for wrongful death.

And the fact that Edonna is Hintz' biological child is not the same as what Arizona law defines as a child.

The judge pointed to adoption statutes which say that once a child is adopted, any legal relationship between that child and the biological parents "is completely severed' and all "legal consequences' of the relationship cease to exist. Swann said that includes all legal rights, going both ways.

"Accordingly, because a wrongful death action is a 'legal consequence' of the parent child relationship ... that right is lost upon adoption,' the judge wrote.

Swann also brushed aside Edonna's contention that his right to sue is protected by another law which gives adopted stepchildren the right to inherit from both biological parents. The judge said the right to inherit does not make the person a "child' of the biological parent who has given the child up for adoption, the legal precursor to suing for wrongful death.

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