Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

rifle-with-smoke-200x300Regardless of one’s personal beliefs about firearms, no one disputes the power and energy in a fired bullet. When a human is struck by a fired round, the consequences can be catastrophic. When someone injures another person by shooting them unlawfully, the criminal justice system can mete out appropriate punishment, but punishment alone does not make the victim whole. Moreover, where an individual is shot by accident, the criminal justice system many not engage judicial process at all.

Whether intentional or accidental, those suffering gunshot wounds may need to turn to a civil lawsuit in order to obtain compensation. However, questions remain about what legal theories are available and who can be held responsible?

If someone intentionally shoots another person, or if the shooter acts with reckless disregard for the safety of others when discharging a firearm, it can be a crime—except under certain circumstances, such as justified self-defense. A judge will typically order an individual convicted of unlawfully shooting pay restitution, together with the prescribed incarceration and fines. However, restitution may be limited to medical bills and other economic loss without taking pain and suffering into account. Under these circumstances, a civil lawsuit for the same shooting may be necessary to be fully compensated.

Vaping-Cloud-300x225In December of 2018, Altria, manufacturer of Marlboro products and one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, made a risky play and took a 35% interest in the vaping company Juul Labs at a cost of $12.8 billion. Over its three years of existence, Juul had climbed its way to become the dominant e-cigarette company, claiming 75% of the quickly emerging market.

On October 31, 2019, Altria cut the book value of its investment by $4.5 billion amid growing concerns about the safety of vaping. Governmental agencies have initiated investigations into several areas, including rampant use of vaping products by teenagers, concerns about health risks unique to vaping, and a string of deaths that some are attributing to vaping products. Juul has also found itself defending against several lawsuits, which are likely the opening salvo in a barrage of similar suits.

One lawsuit is a claim of whistleblower retaliation. Siddharth Breja, Juul’s former vice president of global finance, alleged the company had shipped over one million contaminated mint e-liquid pods to retailers. Breja alleges executive management refused to issue a recall despite his urging.

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Photo Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

This wrongful death action was brought on behalf of a man who died from cardiac arrest after completing a half marathon. He was given CPR by another racer and a bystander, but by the time the automatic external defibrillator was brought to him his heart had no shockable rhythm. The man’s family brought suit against the organizations and individuals who oversaw and put on the race. They alleged that those responsible for the race were negligent, especially regarding the availability of emergency medical services. When loved ones die due to the negligence of others, families – generally with the assistance of knowledgeable California personal injury attorneys – may be able to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

Assumption of the Risk

A woman and her four children sued two doctors and a medical group, alleging a cause of action for the wrongful death of the woman’s husband from medical malpractice during surgery. The doctors and their medical group filed a joint motion for summary judgment, with the doctors invoking the “Good Samaritan Law” (see Bus. & Prof., § 2396) and their group arguing that, absent liability on the doctors’ part, it could have no vicarious liability as their principal. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. The family appealed, and California’s Second District Court of Appeal affirmed.On May 15, 2012, the husband underwent scheduled, elective shoulder surgery at a hospital in East Los Angeles. A doctor performed the surgery. At the same time that a doctor was performing his shoulder surgery, two other doctor was performing heart surgery in an adjacent operating room.

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A Texas couple recently sued Apple, Inc. in Santa Clara Superior Court. The suit claims that the iPhone’s FaceTime app caused the death of their 5-year-old daughter, Moriah Modisette, who was killed in a car crash due to a distracted driver using FaceTime. The child’s parents, James and Bethany Modisette, claim that Apple has failed to use “lock-out” technology to stop FaceTime from being used by drivers: “Apple has consistently and continuously failed to implement a safer, alternative design that would lock-out and prevent use of FaceTime while driving.” The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death, among other causes of action.

Moriah Modisette was killed on Christmas Eve 2014 when her parents’ Toyota Camry was hit from behind by a Toyota SUV driven by then 20-year-old Garrett Wilhelm. The lawsuit indicates the Camry had stopped for traffic when it was hit by Wilhelm’s SUV traveling at 65 mph on Interstate 35. His car allegedly rolled over the driver’s side of the Camry. While both James and Moriah were critically injured, Moriah did not survive the crash: she died of soon after being airlifted to a Fort Worth hospital. James, Bethany, the couples’ other daughter, Isabella, and Wilhelm were all taken in an ambulance to a Denton hospital.

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Early one evening in July 2015, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 14 in San Francisco. The bullet hit Steinle from behind, piercing her aorta. She quickly collapsed to the ground and screamed for help. Her father performed CPR on his daughter before paramedics arrived. Kathryn died two hours later at the hospital. The shooter, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was arrested roughly an hour after the shooting and charged with murder. The Steinles filed suit for wrongful death and negligence against various government officials in May 2016.Lopez-Sanchez was charged with first-degree murder on July 6, 2015. The defendant admitted in an interview that he fired the lethal shot, but that he found the gun under a bench after taking sleeping pills from the trash. He also said that he was aiming to shot sea lions and hit Steinle accidentally. Lopez-Sanchez pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial is scheduled for February 17, 2017.

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At the beginning of this month, a fire broke out in an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship at roughly 11:30 p.m. The Fruitvale neighborhood warehouse had been converted into an artist collective and housing units. The Ghost Ship was hosting a concert promoted by an LA record label. Thirty-six people were killed in the fire, making it the deadliest fire in Oakland history and the deadliest California fire since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.Several factors interfered with the escape process and led to the eventual fatalities. There were no sprinklers in the building, and firefighters on scene did not hear smoke detectors. The building was cluttered with wooden furniture and art. There was also a “makeshift, one-way stairwell” composed of wooden pallets that connected the first and second floors. Oakland Department Chief told reporters, “It was like a maze, almost.”

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A recent lawsuit filed in federal court in California claims officials should have prevented the death of  California inmate Hugo Pinell, who was killed just two weeks after being released into the general prison population last August. Pinell was revered by civil rights activists for his role in California’s prisoner rights movement of the 1960s.Born in Nicaragua, Pinell was convicted of rape at age 19 and sentenced to life in prison in 1965. Pinell had been in solitary confinement since a violent escape attempt from San Quentin in 1971, which left six dead, including three prison guards and Black Panther activist and inmate George Jackson. Pinell was deemed one of the “San Quentin Six” for slitting the throats of several guards during the botched attempt. After what was at the time the longest trial in California history, Pinell was given a third life sentence for his involvement in the incident.

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The widow and children of a construction worker killed at a wastewater treatment facility in Southern California were recently awarded $16.3 million in their case against the construction company.In August 2011, Edgar Alejandro Gonzalez was working at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, a wastewater plant in Playa del Rey that handles Los Angeles’ water supply. Edgar was helping to erect a concrete wall panel when it collapsed, causing him to fall 30 feet. Part of the wall then fell on him, resulting in severe head trauma that ultimately caused his death. His family filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Atlas Construction Supply, Inc.

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The California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District recently upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants following a skateboarding death, based on the doctrine of primary assumption of risk.Brett Bertsch died while using a skateboard in Mammoth Lakes, a resort community. His brother and he were traveling downhill at a fast speed and without helmets when the front wheels of Brett’s skateboard hit a gap between the paved road and a cement collar surrounding a manhole cover. As a result, Brett was thrown off the board. He suffered brain trauma and unfortunately eventually passed away from his injuries.

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