Wrongful death lawsuits are some of the most tragic cases; they tend to capture public interest and often receive media coverage on every step of the case, from preliminary hearings and briefs to jury selection, opening and closing arguments and expert testimony. Some of the most famous cases have involved celebrities; some have been about large corporations accused of manufacturing deadly products.
Negligent or wrongful actions usually form the basis of wrongful death cases. For example, in a car accident case, the defendant may be a reckless driver. In a slip-and-fall accident that results in death, the defendant may be a negligent property owner or manager. In a case where a person has died because of a dangerous drug or medical device, the at-fault party is often the manufacturer of the defective product.
Wrongful death lawsuits are typically filed by immediate family members of the decedent such as a child (minor or grown), spouse, domestic partner, parents, siblings or any individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased person. It is not easy to go through the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit when one is suffering such a tremendous loss; not only is the grief and emotional stress overwhelming, but the legal process can be complex and challenging as well. An experienced wrongful death lawyer will be able to guide families through this difficult process and help them secure justice and fair compensation.
Here are 12 wrongful death cases in which the victims’ families got the last word in spite of numerous roadblocks put forth by the defendants and their lawyers.
The OJ Simpson Case
This is probably the most notorious wrongful death case this nation has ever seen. Just about everyone followed the dramatic criminal trial in 1995 when the former football star, actor and sports broadcaster was acquitted on murder charges. He was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her acquaintance, Ronald Goldman. The murders took place in one of Los Angeles’ most affluent neighborhoods.
This was clearly a case that caught the public’s imagination. Movies and television dramas have been based on the case. Books have been written about the verdict. However, once Simpson was acquitted, the Brown and Goldman families, who were still looking for closure and a sense of justice, sued Simpson in civil court. The result of this case shocked the public as well. The two families were awarded $33.5 million in 1997 in compensatory damages.
While it’s true that both families have struggled to collect damages from Simpson, the wrongful death judgment did make a strong statement to the world that Simpson was, in fact, liable for the death of his ex-wife and Goldman. Even if the plaintiffs (the Brown and Goldman families) didn’t receive the full monetary compensation, they needed to hear this statement and were able to receive some semblance of justice for the death of their loved ones.
This case also illustrates the difference between a murder case, which is heard and adjudicated in a criminal court, and a wrongful death case, which is heard in civil courts. In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof and must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder. However, in a wrongful death case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs, which means that they must show the defendant was negligent and therefore liable for the wrongful death, which is a lower bar when it comes to proof.
School District Pays $11 Million in Drowning Death of Teenager
The family of a 13-year-old boy who died in a California school drowning incident in 2016 settled with the Murrieta Valley School District in August 2018. The boy was at an end-of-the-year party attended by about 100 children. In this particular case, the evidence was quite strong. Surveillance video showed the boy slipped into the water and remained underwater for nearly two minutes. None of those present – faculty, lifeguards or personnel – attempted to rescue the boy.
Eventually, other students brought the boy to the surface, put him on a backboard and kept him there for about seven minutes without any resuscitation or life-saving efforts. The boy was kept on life support with the hope that his condition would improve.
Sadly, he was eventually pronounced brain dead. As part of the $11 million settlement, the school district also agreed to make changes to their safety protocols and promised to share that information with other school districts in California so that such tragedies might be prevented in the future. Also, the district issued a letter of apology to the victim’s family.
Like many wrongful death cases, this lawsuit was not just about the money, but also shed light on the important issue of safety protocols being followed by school districts in such situations. In this case, the parents received the satisfaction of holding the school district, which clearly let them down, accountable. They also affected positive change to minimize the possibility of such tragedies happening to other children in the future.
Uber Wrongful Death Lawsuit in San Francisco
In July 2015, Uber settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a 6-year-old girl who was run over and killed by an Uber driver in San Francisco on Dec. 31, 2013. The girl, her brother (who was also injured in the incident), and their mother were in a crosswalk when the Uber vehicle struck them. While the driver was logged into the Uber app at the time, he wasn’t transporting passengers. The wrongful death lawsuit against Uber alleged several counts of negligence. The settlement amount in this case was not revealed and the girl’s family agreed to keep it confidential.
This is a significant wrongful death case, because despite Uber’s reluctance to take responsibility for one of its drivers, the incident led to a new state law being proposed. The law requires rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft to carry liability insurance to cover accidents that occur during any period in which their drivers use the rideshare application, including when they search for fares. The law went into effect July 1, 2015.
Actor Paul Walker’s Daughter Settles with Porsche
In October 2017, the daughter of late Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker settled her wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche. Walker was driving a Porsche Carrera GT when he collided with a tree in Santa Clarita on the night of November 30, 2013. The car caught fire and both Walker and Roger Rodas, the car’s driver, died at the scene.
Meadow Walker’s wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche alleged that the car’s engine and lack of safety features prevented her father from getting out of the crash alive. The lawsuit said the actor was trapped because of the vehicle’s seat belt design and was alive for a whole minute and 20 seconds after the collision until the car caught fire. Meadow Walker and Porsche decided to keep the terms of the settlement confidential.
Jury Awards $383.5 million Against Dialysis Company
In June 2018, a federal jury awarded $383.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by families of three patients who died of cardiac arrest after treatment at DaVita’s clinics. The lawsuit alleged that the clinic’s staff member was aware that GranuFlo, a product used in the dialysis process, had the potential to cause serious complications, but didn’t do anything to lower the risk.
The jury awarded each of three plaintiffs $125 million in punitive damages and compensatory damages. The lawsuit accused DaVita of not properly inspecting the composition of the treatment and failing to notice alarming blood changes when patients came back to the clinic for treatments.
LA County Pays $11.75 Million to Settle Distracted Driving Case
The family of an attorney who was struck and killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle received $11.75 million in a settlement from the county. The sixty-five-year-old victim was riding his bicycle in the bike lane on December 8, 2013 when the deputy struck him. He died almost immediately after he landed on the cruiser’s windshield.
No criminal charges were filed against the driver because prosecutors said the deputy was not out of line when he was typing on his car’s computer as the crash occurred. The deputy, prosecutors said, was responding to another officer’s inquiry regarding a recent investigation of a fire. The wrongful death lawsuit also alleges that the deputy was texting on his personal cell phone moments before the collision.
This is yet another case where the victim’s family was able to get some sense of justice in a civil trial for the death of their loved one, even though no criminal charges were filed and the police officer was not punished for his negligence.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involving Actress Demi Moore
In January 2018, actress Demi Moore settled a lawsuit with the parents of a 21-year-old who drowned in her swimming pool during a party that took place when the actress wasn’t home. The man was found in the depths of Moore’s swimming pool at her Los Angeles home in July 2015 after the party that was thrown by an individual on the actress’s staff.
The man’s family pursued a wrongful death lawsuit in early 2017 alleging that depth markers were not placed in what was an “excessively deep pool.” The suit also said that the rocks near the pool were a trip hazard and that alcohol, along with the pool’s dangerously high temperature, played a part in the man’s death.
Anton Yelchin’s Parents Sue Fiat Chrysler
Anton Yelchin, best known for his roles in recent Star Trek movies, was killed in June 2016 when his Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a gate in his Los Angeles home. He was only 27 years old. Yelchin’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that a transmission defect in their son’s vehicle caused it to roll inadvertently and crush him to death.
His Jeep Cherokee model was among more than one million vehicles that were recalled two months before his death, because the gear shifts in the vehicles confused drivers. Many people had already been injured because of this problem. Yelchin’s death and his parents’ wrongful death lawsuit against the automaker helped shed more light on the dangers posed by these vehicles.
Aaliyah’s Fatal Aviation Accident
Popular singer and actor Aaliyah was only 22 years old when she died in an aviation accident after making a music video in the Bahamas in 2001. The crash happened close to the runway soon after the plane took off. An investigation into the incident determined that the plane had been overloaded. Aaliyah’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a number of defendants, including the recording company and the pilot’s employer. The lawsuit was eventually settled for a confidential amount.
Award in Truck Accident Wrongful Death Case
In October 2013, a jury in Los Angeles awarded more than $150 million to a 13-year-old girl who watched her family burn to death in a fiery freeway crash. The family’s SUV struck and was caught under a large truck that was parked on the shoulder of the Interstate 210. Only she and her brother escaped the crash. Tragically, her brother committed suicide before the trial began; he killed himself on his mothers’s birthday. Jurors found a California trucking company and one of its drivers liable for this horrific and traumatizing incident. The money was placed in a trust until the girl turned 18.
Caitlyn Jenner Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In January 2016, Caitlyn Jenner settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the stepchildren of the widow killed in a deadly car accident in Malibu. Jenner was driving a Cadillac Escalade on Pacific Coast Highway when she rear-ended the victim and pushed her vehicle into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The victim’s stepchildren alleged that Jenner’s negligence caused the crash.
The 69-year-old woman died at the scene. During an investigation, police determined Jenner was traveling at an unsafe speed given the conditions, although she was still under the speed limit. No criminal charges were filed due to “insufficient evidence.” However, the plaintiffs in this wrongful death case had the last word after they reached a settlement with Jenner.
Large Verdict in Defective Rental Car Case
In June 2010, a California jury awarded $15 million to the family of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, who died after Enterprise Rent-A-Car knowingly gave them a vehicle that had been recalled for safety issues. The sisters were 24 and 20 when they rented a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Capitola. Their car crashed into a semi truck and burst into flames. Experts determined that the fatal crash was caused by a steering hose leak – the very safety problem for which the cars were recalled. After initially fighting the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the women’s parents, the rental car company eventually admitted full responsibility.
Wrongful death lawsuits may result in large verdicts and settlements, as evidenced by these high-profile cases. However, the process of seeking and obtaining these results is complicated and can be a long, exhausting and challenging road. If you are contemplating filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is important that you seek the counsel and guidance of an experienced wrongful death lawyer who will fight for your rights and help you seek maximum compensation for your losses.
At TorkLaw, we know that wrongful death lawsuits may result in emotional and financial challenges. Those who have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing can seek compensation for damage such as medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost future income, pain and suffering, and loss of love and companionship. Please call us at (888) 845-9696 to find out how we can help you.
A highly regarded and well-respected trial lawyer, author and speaker, Reza Torkzadeh is the founder and managing attorney of TorkLaw – a premier plaintiff’s personal injury law firm specializing in complex catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.
Reza’s performance in and out of the courtroom has earned him several of the industry’s top awards and professional recognitions, and a reputation as an elite litigator. He has earned millions in settlements, verdicts, and judgments for his clients.
If you would like a free consultation, please contact us today.