Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Anyone who has been injured or lost a family member in a Washington, D.C. personal injury accident may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, before pursuing a claim for compensation it is important for accident victims to keep in mind the role that their own negligence could play in barring recovery, even if that role was a slight one.

In Washington, D.C. wrongful death and personal injury cases, the doctrine of contributory negligence bars recovery for the plaintiff, if the victim was at all at fault in causing the accident. States and localities have various laws surrounding contributory negligence, so cases may play out differently depending on where in the country the suit is brought. The Washington, D.C. law is one of the harshest for accident victims, so navigating a suit with a potential contributory negligence defense can be incredibly risky without the aid of an attorney.

A recent state appellate opinion serves as a good example of how a plaintiff’s own fault can affect their ability to recover. According to the court’s opinion, a sixteen-year-old boy was murdered after leaving his high school early and without permission. While the details of his departure and subsequent murder are largely unknown, the evidence establishes that he was leaving to engage in either a firearms deal or to buy marijuana. When he was found later, he was in an apartment complex known for illegal activity and with a large amount of money. His estate brought suit against his high school in a wrongful death action, claiming that the school was negligent in not monitoring and supervising the victim.

When a product is released for sale to the general public, the manufacturer of the product is responsible for ensuring that the product is safe for its intended use and does not present an unreasonable risk of injury. If someone is injured due to a product that suffers from a design defect, the injury victim can file a Washington, D.C. product liability claim against the manufacturer.

Typically, Maryland product liability claims are brought under the theory of strict liability, meaning that an injury victim does not need to prove that the manufacturer was negligent; only that the defectively designed product caused their injuries. However, certain exceptions to this general rule exist. A recent case involving a rented Bobcat light-construction vehicle discusses one of the more common exceptions.

According to the court’s opinion, a man rented a Bobcat skid-steer loader from a rental agency. The machine was an open-framed vehicle that was used for light construction and demolition tasks that could be fitted with hundreds of attachments, depending on the intended use of the machine. A door-kit was one of these add-ons.

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the importance of expert selection in Washington, D.C. product liability cases. The case required the court to determine if the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses was based on sufficiently reliable methodology. Ultimately, the court concluded that the testimony of both witnesses was properly excluded by the trial court.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a college student who died in a fire that started in the boy’s room. Investigators found the boy’s laptop among the debris. The plaintiffs presented two expert witnesses to testify that, in their opinion, the fire was started when the battery in the laptop malfunctioned.

The first expert had a PhD in inorganic chemistry and was an expert in battery safety. He testified that upon inspecting the batteries in the laptop, one of the three cells had ruptured. He further explained that a battery cell can only rupture in certain circumstances, including electrically abusive condition,s mechanically abusive conditions, high temperatures (such as a fire), or an internal problem with the battery.

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Whenever a person’s death is a result of the negligent conduct of someone else, the surviving family of the deceased person may be able to pursue compensation for their loss through a Washington, D.C. wrongful death lawsuit. In Washington, D.C., wrongful death lawsuits may be brought by the surviving spouse or partner of the deceased person. If no surviving spouse or partner exists, the next of kin is able to file the lawsuit.

In order to prove a Washington, D.C. wrongful death lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish that the named defendant’s negligent conduct brought about the death of their loved one. Generally, this requires proof of four elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. A recent wrongful death case out of Georgia discusses how a court may apply the causation analysis.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young man who was a student at the defendant university. The plaintiffs’ son enrolled in a study-abroad program in Costa Rica through the university. Prior to traveling to Costa Rica, school officials warned students of the dangers of swimming in the open ocean, and they asked each of the students whether they were a good swimmer. The plaintiffs’ son indicated that he was comfortable in the water and that he could swim.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case that illustrates why it is important for accident victims to secure dedicated and knowledgeable counsel to assist them with their claims. In the case, Davis v. Blaylock, the court dismissed three wrongful death cases against various defendants the plaintiff alleged were responsible for the death of her father because the plaintiff had previously filed a case based on the same series of events.

The Facts

The plaintiff, Long, lost her father while he was in the care of the defendant doctors. Believing that her father’s death was caused by the negligent care he received from the doctors, she filed a series of wrongful death lawsuits against the doctors in different counties. The first lawsuit was filed on November 4, 2014.

Two weeks after the filing of the first lawsuit, Long filed a second lawsuit against a different doctor she claimed was liable for her father’s death. On the same day, Long filed a third wrongful death lawsuit against the medical center where her father was being treated. Three weeks later, Long filed a fourth wrongful death case against the same medical center, making slightly different claims.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was filed by a man who was paralyzed after he dived off a diving platform in a state park. The court noted that it was sympathetic to the plaintiff, but that the law had to be applied in an unemotional way. In so doing, the court found that the state was immune from the lawsuit based on recreational immunity.

Roy v. State: The Facts

Roy was paralyzed when he dove off a diving platform into the murky waters below it. He filed a premises liability lawsuit against the state, as well as the owner and operator of the park, alleging that the state had not done enough to protect against the type of injury he sustained.

The evidence presented at trial showed that there were “no swimming” signs up around the park, but that people routinely disobeyed the signage. There was even testimony that there were bathhouses and lifeguards occasionally on duty who would only stop swimmers when they would dive head-first into the pond.

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Last year, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in an accident when a Wal-Mart truck rear-ended the limo Morgan and friends were riding in, seriously injuring Morgan and fatally wounding one of his friends, fellow comedian James McNair. According to one news source covering the issue, the National Transportation Safety Bureau will meet next week in Washington D.C. to conduct a hearing investigating the cause of the fatal accident.

Allegations of Drowsy Driving

While the NTSB is still conducting its investigation into what occurred in the moments leading up to the fatal accident, a preliminary report issued just weeks after the accident showed that the driver was traveling 65 miles per hour in an area with a designated speed limit of 45 or 55 miles per hour due to ongoing construction. Additionally, there have been claims that the driver was awake and on the road for almost all of the preceding 24 hours, which is in violation of state and federal laws. In New Jersey, where the accident occurred, causing an accident after having not slept for 24 hours can result in an “assault by auto” charge.

Morgan was seriously injured with a broken leg, serious head trauma, and several broken ribs. James McNair was pronounced dead shortly after emergency responders arrived on the scene. Several others in the limo at the time of the accident also suffered varying injuries.

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Earlier this month, the long-time partner of a man who was killed by the Fairfax Police Department filed suit against the Department seeking $12 million in damages for her loss. According to a report by CBS DC, the lawsuit that was filed in federal court claims that the police chief and three unnamed officers engaged in wrongful conduct that was grossly negligent and caused the wrongful death of her loved one.

Evidently, back in August of this year the woman called 911 during an argument that the couple was having. At some point during the encounter, police shot the woman’s partner in the chest despite several witness reports that he was unarmed. The man died shortly after. The cause of death was officially listed as loss of blood.

The woman told reporters that she filed the suit to get some answers for herself and for her two teenage daughters. The Fairfax Police Department has thus far refused to discuss the case, or to say whether it believes that the shooting was justified.

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Earlier this week in Prince George’s County, a teen was killed when he crashed his dirt bike into a tree after running from police. The family of the teen has recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Prince George’s County, seeking $20 million in damages.

According to a report by the Washington Post, two teens were riding on a Kawasaki dirt bike in an apartment complex when an officer began to tail them. The officer claims that he suspected the pair were involved in a recent armed robbery. As the officer initiated a traffic stop, the teens fled. The officer pursued the teens across county lines and into Washington DC. Once in DC, the teens crashed the motorcycle into a tree. The driver of the motorcycle died as a result.

The deceased teen’s family is claiming that the officer did not have the authority to pursue the teen, citing to recent changes in Prince George’s County police protocol. Pursuant to police protocol, an officer can only chase a fleeing suspect when he or she suspects the suspect of certain enumerated crimes. While riding a dirt bike on public roads is illegal, it is not one of the crimes listed. Moreover, the officer did not have police authority in the District of Columbia, once the teens entered that jurisdiction.

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A series of investigations and lawsuits seek to shed light on shootings by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency which includes the U.S. Border Patrol (BP), involving Mexican nationals located across the border on Mexican territory. Asserting civil claims over these incidents has proven difficult, both practically and legally. The CBP and related agencies suffer from a lack of transparency, which makes the discovery process difficult. Courts have been reluctant to exercise jurisdiction over claims by foreign nationals, raising questions about jurisdiction and rights when an agent fires a gun on one side of an international border, and the injury occurs on the other side.

According to the Arizona Republic, BP and CBP agents have been involved in at least forty-two fatal uses of force since 2005. Thirty-eight of those deaths occurred near the U.S.-Mexico border. The Republic describes them as varying from “strongly justifiable to highly questionable.” Four BP agents have died in “direct conflicts with aggressors” in roughly the same timeframe.

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, age sixteen, was shot and killed by BP agents on October 10, 2012. The agents were located in Nogales, Arizona, while Rodriguez was in the Mexican town of the same name. The agents claimed that Rodriguez was throwing rocks at them. Agents are permitted to use deadly force in response to threats, and they treat rocks as a deadly weapon as a matter of policy.

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