In wrongful death suit, Diane McIver estate zeroes in on best friend

Her testimony helped send Claud "Tex" McIver to prison for life for the fatal shooting of his wife, but now Dani Jo Carter finds herself in the legal crosshairs of Diane McIver's estate.

She’s been named, along with Tex McIver, in a wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this week by Mary Margaret Oliver, the estate administrator.

Confused? Carter sure was.

“I think seeing her name as a defendant next to Tex’s name in this really hit her hard,” Carter’s attorney, Lee Davis, told Channel 2 Action News.

The lawsuit seeks to prove McIver’s shooting of his wife was an accident, as the 75-year-old lawyer has insisted from the beginning.

RELATED: After Tex McIver’s conviction, what happens to Diane’s money? 

Carter, who was driving the McIver’s Ford Expedition when Tex shot her best friend in the back, may be the only vessel through which the estate can obtain a payout from the vehicle’s insurer, Chubb Insurance Companies. The potential payout is unknown.

SENTENCING: Watch McIver's statement: Horses, telepathy and Chick-fil-A but no apology 

"No insurer will cover an intentional death," said Atlanta attorney Esther Panitch, who has experience in this sort of thing. In 2012 she filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of Rusty Sneiderman's estate against his wife Andrea, who at the time was a suspected accomplice in her husband's murder.

But murder charges against Andrea Sneiderman were eventually dropped. Tex McIver was convicted of felony murder last month, a fact lawyers for Chubb Insurance Companies are certain to seize upon.

Tex McIver’s conviction won’t have any bearing on this case, according to Robin Frazer Clark, the attorney for the estate administrator. “This is a civil case, and we just have to prove what is most likely, that an accident causing death took place in that car. If we get a jury to accept that, we’ll win the case.”

Because Carter was driving the McIver’s SUV with their consent, she was covered by the vehicle’s insurance, Clark said.

According to the complaint, filed in DeKalb County State Court, Carter “owed her passenger, Diane Smith McIver, a duty to drive with due and care and in a safe manner at all times.”

“On the evening of September 25, 2016, Defendant Carter breached that duty she owed to Diane Smith McIver,” it states.

The complaint, which also questioned Carter’s decision not to stop the car and call 911 after her passenger was shot, blames Carter’s negligence, combined with the culpability of Tex McIver, for Diane’s “serious personal injuries, which later resulted in her death.”

Davis rejected the notion his client bears any responsibility, saying, “She didn’t understand how anybody could possibly think she had anything to do with (Diane’s) death.”

Clark said that’s up to a jury to determine, but she added any monetary judgment against Carter would come out of the insurer’s pocket, not her own.

Chubb’s lawyers, then, are likely to argue that Carter had no culpability while reminding civil jurors that Tex McIver was found guilty of murder.

RELATED: Deep dive into McIver’s finances reveals major debt, few solutions

Tex McIver lost his claim on Diane’s estate under Georgia’s “slayer statute,” which prevents a convicted murderer from inheriting from his or her victim. However, it was pointed out in his trial that his net worth before her death was $1.7 million, including a beloved 85-acre ranch in Putnam County. He still has a claim on at least half of the ranch and, possibly, all of it.

“He owns one-half of that land, no matter what,” Atlanta estate attorney Kasey Libby told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “His half-interest is not affected by the murder because it is not property Diane owned when she died.”

Not all lawyers agree. The issue, they say, is whether the slayer statute takes precedence over McIver’s right of survivorship. One thing’s for sure, said Atlanta trusts attorney Robert Aitkens, is there’s never been another case like this one in Georgia.

“This could take lots of different twists and turns as we go forward,” Panitch said. “This is like a law school exam question come to life.”