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Articles Tagged with wrongful death

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Those who lack familiarity with the inner workings of the civil justice system may be under the impression that a lawsuit is either settled or it goes to trial in front of a jury. However, the fact is that not everyone who files suit gets their day in court, so to speak.

Many cases are decided by a judge via a process known as summary judgment. When a judge grants summary judgment, he or she is essentially saying that, even if the plaintiff is given the benefit of the doubt as to questionable evidence, the law will not allow him or her to be successful at trial.

Usually, summary judgment terminates a civil case. However, a party against whom such an order is entered may appeal the trial judge’s decision, and the court of appeals could see things differently. Continue reading

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Mother and her son looking outDepending upon the law of the state in which a person dies, it may be possible for his or her survivors to file a wrongful death lawsuit, a survival action, or both. Typically, state law also dictates who has the right to file suit, the appropriate lawsuit(s), the types of damages that may be sought, and how the proceeds will be divided among the various interested parties.

Difficulties sometimes arise in identifying the proper party to bring the suit. When this happens, it is up to the trial court judge to apply the law to the particular facts of the case. If any litigant is dissatisfied with the judge’s ruling, he or she may seek relief in the court of appeals, or thereafter the state supreme court.

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glass case, antiques, premesis liability, wrongful death, injuriesWhen a person is injured on someone else’s property, or when a loved one dies as a result of an accident on another party’s property, there is the possibility of filing a premises liability lawsuit seeking compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

However, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. Business and landowners are very resistant to a finding of liability and will fight hard for a dismissal of the case if at all possible.

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power plantThe burden of proof is initially on the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit. In order to prevail, he or she must prove each of the four elements of negligence (duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages) by a preponderance of the evidence. This is usually done through a combination of expert witnesses and lay testimony.

For instance, in many car accident cases, the basic facts of the crash may be explained by lay witnesses (“I saw the blue car run the red light and hit the side of the white van”). Evidence regarding certain damages, such as injuries and the reasonableness and necessity of medical expenses, requires testimony from an expert witness such as a physician.

In the middle of these extremes are cases in which expert witness testimony would prove helpful but is not strictly required in order for a case to go forward. Sometimes, the parties disagree as to whether such testimony is an actual requirement under the circumstances, and the court must make a decision.

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036 morguefile cherie durbinIn Simmerman v. Ace Bayou Corp., the parents of a three-year-old sued several parties following the death of their child, who became trapped in a beanbag chair. The parents filed a product liability action against the manufacturer of the allegedly defective chair, the department store where they purchased the item, and the manager of the store in Fayette County Circuit Court. In response to the lawsuit, the defendants removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Lexington based upon diversity of citizenship. In general, a defendant may remove a case to federal court as long as the defendants are from different states than the plaintiff and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

Next, the parents filed a motion to remand the case back to Fayette County Circuit Court. Although the store manager was a resident of Kentucky, the remaining corporate defendants have main corporate headquarters in other states. According to the plaintiffs, the Kentucky manager destroyed diversity and required the case to be tried in state court. The store manager, however, countered that she was fraudulently joined in the case solely to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction.

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_damoiselle_recycling-bins morguefile damoiselleThe Kentucky case Estate of Ferrell v. J & W Recycling, Inc. involved a semi truck and car accident in which both drivers died. The two drivers were killed when an automobile and a tractor-trailer collided in Greenup County, Kentucky, in 2011. The driver of the semi-truck was apparently operating the commercial vehicle during the course of his employment for a recycling company. When the accident occurred, the recycling business carried commercial general liability insurance. Still, the company’s insurer refused to honor the policy and indemnify the business after the fatal accident.

Following the tragic wreck, the wife of the automobile driver filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the recycling business. According to her complaint, the accident resulted in part from improper truck loading by a forklift operator. After nearly two years of litigation, the man’s wife and the recycling company agreed upon a settlement in which the business admitted fault for the deadly collision. As part of the agreement, the decedent’s wife accepted the recycling company’s rights under its liability insurance policy. When she filed a petition with the court to “adjudge the existence of coverage” under the policy the insurer sought to move the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky based upon diversity jurisdiction.

28 U.S.C. § 1332 allows a party to a lawsuit to remove a case from state court where the parties are residents of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, however, allows a federal court to refuse jurisdiction where appropriate. After examining several factors, the federal court declined to hear the case.

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file451236551507 morguefile username jadeIn Big Spring Assembly of God, Inc. v. Stevenson, a youth minister for a church organized a camping trip with several teens. At one point during the trip, the minister took two children to his apartment in his personal automobile. While returning to the campground, the minister apparently allowed a 13-year-old to drive the vehicle. Sadly, the child lost control of the car and caused a wreck. The child died as a result of his injuries.

Before law enforcement officials arrived, the minister allegedly asked the surviving youth to state the minister was driving at the time of the fatal accident. The child initially complied with the minister’s request but later admitted to police that the deceased 13-year-old was behind the wheel when the crash took place. After that, the estate of the deceased child filed a vicarious liability lawsuit against the church that employed the minister and sought damages as a result of the organization’s alleged negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of the man. The decedent’s parents also sought damages for loss of consortium.

A trial court found that both the minister and the child committed negligence as a matter of law and asked jurors to apportion damages over the child’s death. Since Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state, the amount of damages an at-fault defendant is required to pay will normally be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the injured or deceased person. Although the jury determined the church was not vicariously responsible for the minister’s negligence because he was acting outside of the scope of his job duties when the deadly wreck occurred, it did hold the organization liable for its negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of him. As a result, jurors awarded the child’s estate $1 million in damages and attributed 80 percent of the fault to the minister’s actions. Since the jury found that the child was 20 percent to blame for his wrongful death, the damages award was reduced to about $800,000. The child’s parents also received approximately $60,000 for their loss of consortium claims.

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building-682774-mIn an unpublished 2013 case, a couple sued a window screen manufacturer and the owners of an apartment building. Their toddler fell through an open window and died. A Kentucky trial court dismissed their claims, and the couple appealed. The issue in the case was whether a manufacturer of the screen that was in the open window owed the family the duty to warn or design its screens such that the child’s fall would be prevented.

The child who died was in a fourth-floor apartment in which his grandmother lived. The window was open, but the screen was in place. The window sill was 7 inches above the floor.

The screen did not have any warnings on it. Other screens in the building did have a label that warned parents that their child should not be near the open window. The toddler’s parents brought a wrongful death action against defendants including the window manufacturer and owners and managers of the apartment building. Continue reading

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ambulance-822657-m-1In a 2013 unpublished appellate case, a woman’s estate appealed after the circuit court granted summary judgment on some of the estate’s claims and directed the verdict on the remaining wrongful death claims. The case arose from the death of Cheryl Powers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Before dying, Powers called 911. A dispatcher took the call. Powers couldn’t speak clearly, but she tried to give her address before the call was disconnected. The dispatcher called the number back, but it went to the woman’s voice mail. The dispatcher called the police dispatcher instead of an ambulance and explained that she thought the woman had given a particular address.

The dispatcher replayed the 911 call and called the police dispatcher again, saying that she thought that the woman had said “Vista Apartments.” The police dispatcher sent an officer to the first address, but the first address did not exist. The police dispatcher told the officer there was no additional information and thereby “cleared” the 911 call. Therefore, no emergency services responded to the woman’s 911 call, and she died. On the following morning, the woman’s boyfriend found her dead in the hallway. Continue reading