Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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For many in Atlanta, this summer began with a toddler’s tragic death and…a question. On June 18th of this year, 22 month old Cooper Harris perished after his father mistakenly left him alone in the family car for seven hours as temperatures at the father’s office park reached their peak. Per the coroner, the Cobb County, Georgia, toddler’s official cause of death was hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke–except that it’s actually turning out to be a bit more complicated than that.

The question on everyone’s minds now is whether this is a case of simple negligence or whether something more sinister may be at play. For one, the father, Ross Harris, breakfasted with his son at a local Chik-fil-A and strapped him into his rear-facing car seat mere minutes before driving less than a mile to his office at Home Depot and leaving his son in the car. With surveillance video ostensibly showing the father returning to the car briefly at lunchtime (yet allegedly not discovering his son’s body until 4 pm) and an investigation into the father’s work computer revealing ominous research into how it long it takes an animal to die in a hot car, concerned citizens are crying foul – as are the police. After being questioned, the mother also purportedly admitted conducting similar searches all because, she claimed, she and her husband both feared making a mistake of epic proportions and wanted to learn what they could do to avoid it. Their proactive plan to educate themselves, however, seems to have backfired in the worst way imaginable.

So what information, exactly, is available on the information superhighway regarding heat stroke deaths? What might The Harris’ searches have revealed?
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A Troup County jury has awarded the 94-year-old father of a disabled woman, Mary Ellen Humphrey, upwards of $3 million dollars after she was fatally ejected from a transport vehicle following a LaGrange, Georgia car accident. Pivotal to the plaintiff’s victory in his wrongful death action, Greg Lands reports in the Daily Report’s December 30 issue, was evidence that “restraining straps that should have been installed on the stretcher were missing.” The single 63-year-old woman, who suffered from paralysis in her legs among a plethora of other health problems, had resided at a nursing home facility for approximately four years and required transport to and from the West Georgia Dialysis Center three times per week.

Ms. Humphrey had been placed on the stretcher and loaded onto a transport minivan owned by Brilansie Enterprises for a return trip from West Georgia Dialysis shortly before the 2010 auto crash. The resulting wrongful death suit was filed against the defendant driver (who perished later in an unrelated event), the executor of the defendant driver’s estate, the driver of the transport van, Brilansie Enterprises (the transport company) and its insurer, and Southeastrans Inc., an Atlanta-based company that engages subcontractors who in turn provide NET to Medicaid and Medicare patients.

Evidence produced showed that Ms. Humphrey had been restrained by three straps across her torso when the defendant driver struck the vehicle, but the shoulder straps were conspicuously absent once she was extricated from the vehicle. The force of the impact “threw her forward from beneath…[the torso straps] and into the driver’s seat ‘with such force that it bent,’ then continued forward, with her head slamming into the front console and her body wedged beneath the two front seats,” according to the Daily Report’s interpretation of the pre-trial order. Her injuries, which resulted in her death at the scene, included 18 broken ribs, a skull fracture, and a broken femur.
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It was almost three years ago that Kevin Boyer of North Dakota was driving his three children home in the family van when they were suddenly struck by a tractor-trailer with a double-trailer rig. Two of his children perished in the crash, leaving both Boyer and the third child, a three-year-old son, critically injured. One son was ejected from the vehicle and into the snow, while Boyer’s daughter was discovered partially ejected through a rear window. Boyer and his surviving child were taken to the hospital, where they eventually recovered, but the effects were long-lasting and included the demise of Boyer’s marriage. Although Boyer and his wife began divorce proceedings only weeks after the devastating truck accident, they finally came together in 2012 to file a civil lawsuit against the truck driver.

A local publication, The Grand Forks Herald, reports that Plaintiffs allege the driver “violated federal regulations by driving too many hours without rest and using a prescription painkiller that causes drowsiness.” The driver, Steve Nelson, has not disputed those claims and, in fact, served a one year sentence after pleading guilty in 2011 during a related criminal case which encompassed two counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless driving, with all but 60 days of his sentence being suspended. The remaining 60 days were spent on house arrest and an additional 100 hours were spent doing community service.
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A Georgia motorist, Dominic Moceri, was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in a fiery car crash that claimed the life of his female passenger six years ago. The Athens man was found guilty of homicide after his attempts to outrun police following an attempted traffic stop culminated in him crashing into a utility pole. Brenna Garrison, a 26-year-old separated mother of young two children and former University of Georgia accountant, was fatally ejected from the car after the violent impact sheared off the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Prosecutors said she had been wearing her seatbelt at the time.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the pursuing officer’s dashboard camera captured the events as they unfolded – and the tape was subsequently played for the jury at trial. The officer had witnessed Moceri driving erratically only moments before the car accident. While some might claim the video was prejudicial, experienced plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys can see the benefit in allowing the jury to see exactly what happened. Prosecutors theorized that Moceri, who had just recently begun to date the victim, fled from the police because he believed he was legally drunk. At the time of trial, however, Moceri blamed the accident on a defect in his BMW that caused him to accelerate suddenly. It was a defense that did not fly with jurors, especially once they saw the dashboard tape.

Garrison’s husband, who continues to care for the couple’s children, always believed that he and his wife would have reconciled, had she lived. If he and/or other family members so choose, in addition to the criminal proceedings, they may elect to file a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging negligence on Moceri’s part.
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A deadly Georgia airplane crash that occurred earlier this year may have lent itself to multiple lawsuits, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Investigation into the crash continues as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attempts to determine what cause the February 20 incident. An independent federal agency, the NTSB is charged with determining the probable cause of each accident investigated and issuing safety recommendations designed specifically to prevent future accidents.

The lawsuits, which were filed in Fulton County Superior Court, come months after the crash, with family members of the deceased filing civil claims on September 9 against the city of Thomson, Georgia McDuffie County, the airport’s operators, Georgia Power and parent company, Southern Company, to name a few. On February 20 the estate was carrying five passengers, all Vein Guys employees, when the plane touched down, aborted its landing and clipped the top of a 60-foot-tall concrete utility pole as it went airborne. The right wing of the plane was severed, causing a fuel leak right before the plane landed in a fiery crash. The passengers perished, while the pilots escaped with injuries.

In aviation, a personal injury claim is typically filed when one or more parties are negligent in the operation and/or maintenance of the subject aircraft. A flight depends on the successful execution of multiple factors and can likewise be derailed by any number things including pilot error and mechanical defects. Because of the altitudes that airplanes hit, as well as their size, airplane accidents are usually fatal or result in debilitating and traumatic injury.
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There are undoubtedly many different types of car accidents. There are collisions between multiple drivers, and then there are those collisions caused by motorists who are under the influence, or distracted. All of these accidents, no matter, the driving force, invoke feelings of sympathy for the victims involved. But of particular tragedy are the accidents that may not be the direct result of any type of human error at all.

Often in these so-called “freak accidents,” injury seems to have been almost inevitable. Even more disconcerting for personal injury attorneys is the fact that, in these cases, it is often extremely difficult to immediately pinpoint or assign “fault” to any one particular source. Take, for instance, an article entitled, “Woman Killed by Flying Tire Had Nowhere to go.” The blaring headline displayed on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s (AJC) Web site regarding one of Atlanta’s most recent morning rush hour traffic accidents serves only to accentuate the aforementioned point.

Last Friday morning, a 47-year-old woman was driving her daughter to school when a truck tire flew over the median that separates I-85 and in the direction of cars driving southbound on the highway near the Clairmont Road exit. The tire struck the van’s roof and windshield, killing Aila Masud on impact. According to a police interview conducted by reporters at the AJC, another driver traveling in the opposite direction, and across the median, was trying to avoid his own collision, when a front tire came off of his truck and careened at least 50 feet into the air, eventually striking Masud’s motor vehicle.
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As you may have read, I recently wrote regarding lawsuits that are currently pending in Mississippi, where the proponents of the suits are seeking to have the stat’s cap on tort damages overturned. However, it seems that Mississippi is not the only state that is currently facing this issue. In Missouri, after winning a recent lawsuit challenging the state’s noneconomic damages cap, Missouri doctors continue to fight another battle threatening to overturn the recovery limit, while Plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to seek to overturn the limit.

According to Amednews.com, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled on April 3rd in Sanders v. Ahmed that the state’s noneconomic damages cap for medical malpractice or medical negligence cases was constitutional. The cap, adopted in 1986, impacts cases in which the alleged negligence happened before 2005. The limit was enacted at $350,000 but is now at more than $600,000 due to inflation. The second suit, which the state high court has yet to decide, centers on Missouri’s latest $350,000 award limit. The cap impacts all medical liability or medical malpractice lawsuits starting in 2005. A decision in the case, Watts v. Cox, is expected by the summer, said attorneys involved in the case.

In Sanders v. Ahmed, a patient’s family said the cap used to reduce their jury award from $9.2 million to $1.2 million violated the Missouri Constitution. The family had filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Paulette Sanders, who died in 2005. Relatives claimed neurologist Iftekhar Ahmed, MD, failed to recognize and treat a fatal side effect resulting from a medication he prescribed to Sanders. Dr. Ahmed denied wrongdoing.

After winning at trial, the family filed a motion fighting the award reduction. A trial court upheld the reduction, and the family appealed. In their opinion, Supreme Court justices said the Legislature has the authority to enact damages caps.

“The remedy available in a statutorily created cause of action is a matter of law, not fact, and not within the purview of the jury,” the court said. “To hold otherwise would be to tell the Legislature it could not legislate; it could neither create nor negate causes of action and in doing so could not prescribe the measure of damages for the same. This court never has so held and declines to do so now.”
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According to KDRV.com and Pantagraph.com an Oregon jury ruled Tuesday that a problem with an engine was responsible for the 2008 crash of a helicopter that killed nine firefighters during a wildfire in Northern California. The jury in Portland reached its verdict after a pilot who survived, along with the widow of one who was killed, sued General Electric for $177 million. In total, the jury determined that G.E. must pay nearly $70 million dollars in damages to the plaintiffs.

After a two-year investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded in 2010 that too much weight and a lack of oversight caused the crash. The chopper was airborne less than a minute when it clipped a tree and fell from the sky, bursting into flames. Four people survived, including one of the pilots, William Coultas. The wrongful death lawsuit decided Tuesday was brought by Coultas, his wife and the estate of Schwanenberg, who died in the crash.

Along with pilot Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine, those killed included Jim Ramage, 63, a U.S. Forest Service inspector pilot from Redding, Calif.; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30, of Medford; Scott Charlson, 25, of Phoenix, Ore.; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; Edrik Gomez, 19, of Ashland; Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; David Steele, 19, of Ashland; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21, of Cave Junction. The families of eight men who were killed and three who were injured reached out-of-court settlements with three of five defendants in multiple lawsuits filed after the crash.

As reported by KDRV.com, during the trial, the plaintiffs argued the company knew the engines it made for the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter had a design flaw making the equipment unsafe, and thus were responsible for the wrongful death of the firefighters who lost their lives as a result of the crash. GE countered that the helicopter crashed because it was carrying too much weight when it took off after picking up a firefighting crew battling the Iron 44 wildfire in Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, Calif.

“They’re heroes,” plaintiffs’ attorney Greg Anderson said of the pilots, William Coultas and Roark Schwanenberg. “They saved as many people as they could. They have been pilloried before this.”
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As reported by The San Francisco Chronicle in early February, a San Francisco elder abuse attorney filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that a shuttle bus company and its driver were negligent in the transport, care and death of an elderly dementia patient who went missing for ten days, and are thus liable for the patient’s wrongful death. The suit is styled: San Francisco County Superior Court, Case Number: CGC-12-518046.

The lawsuit alleges that MEDSAM Enterprises, its driver, San Francisco Paratransit and Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) engaged in elder abuse and negligence in the wrongful death of 73-year old dementia patient Kenneth Chin, who went missing for ten days after he was allegedly dropped off in the wrong location and not taken directly to his assisted living facility.

According to the lawsuit filed on Mr. Chin’s behalf, on February 24, 2011, Mr. Chin allegedly boarded a MEDSAM shuttle van, driven by Eugene Pearlman, for his regular shuttle ride from Irene Swindell’s Center for Adult Day Services to his home at Nacario’s Home #5, an assisted living facility. The lawsuit complaint states that when Mr. Chin did not arrive at the assisted living facility at his scheduled time, his conservator, JFCS, was notified as required. However the lawsuit is alleging that JFCS hampered search efforts by negligently failing to notify Mr. Chin’s family in a timely manner.

According to the attorney representing Mr. Chin’s interests, Ingrid Evans, “The three-hour notification delay by JFCS was critical to Chin’s safety especially since his dead body was found approximately one mile from his house. By the time the family was notified that Chin was missing, darkness had already set in and an approaching storm made search conditions extremely difficult.” Also according to Evans, “The bus driver had an obligation and a duty of care to walk Chin to the door and ensure his safe arrival due to Chin’s dementia,” said Evans. “Instead, no one knows for sure where Chin was dropped off. All we know is that he was left stranded in the freezing cold and wandered around San Francisco for days and died,” added Evans.
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When we send our children off to school, we expect them to be taken care of, and we also expect them to be kept safe. From the school bus to the school house doors, it is expected that the school system, school administrators, and school personnel will act in such a manner that ensures the safety of our children. However, in the case of one Missouri young man, adequate care was not taken by school affiliated personnel to ensure his safety. Mason Adams, a then high school junior, was struck and killed by a school bus.

According to Cincinnati.com, a Cincinnati, Ohio based school bus company paid $5 million earlier this month to settle the wrongful death lawsuit that stemmed from the wrongful death of Mason Adams, who was killed after one of the drivers for First Student drove a bus over, and killed the teen.

The wrongful death case, filed by Mason’s mother, Bridgett Blasi, alleged that a 23 year old First Student bus driver failed to defrost or scrape the windshield of the bus he was operating, and as a result drove the bus over the 16 year old, who was legally crossing the street in St. Joseph, Missouri. The incident, which occurred on November 15, 2010, resulted in Mason Adams’ death.

Despite the obvious negligence of its employee, First Student, which also has a contract to transport Cincinnati Public School students, refused to admit its role in Mason’s death, until First Student finally decided to settle the suit, earlier this month. According to Blasi’s attorney, Michael Kuckelman “What Ms. Blasi has been seeking for over a year was an apology and acknowledgment of responsibility from First Student. What she wanted for over a year was to stop blaming her son. They said he wasn’t paying attention and that just isn’t true.”
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