Frequently Asked Questions About a Wrongful Death Case.
What typically happens in a case like this, with multiple wrongdoers?
An experienced law firm will likely hire accident reconstruction experts to recreate exactly what happened, based on all the physical evidence—inspecting broken or potentially defective equipment, calculating speed and distances at which various events occurred, comparing the physical evidence with what is known to be safe, etc. The reconstruction team’s expertise lies in building a plausible theory as to what could have gone wrong.
Should the case go to trial, these experts can often provide the necessary proof of how the incident happened and ultimately who was at fault. Additionally, experienced law firms also have relationships with private investigators who may be hired to interview witnesses and people with any knowledge bearing on the incident.
These investigators track down whether any similar equipment failures involving similar products manufactured by any company, or the same company’s products, have occurred in the past.
Witnesses can include employees of the company that manufactured any equipment that failed, victims of or witnesses to past equipment failures, people with knowledge concerning how inspections are carried out, witnesses aware of company safety policies and rules about equipment maintenance, and other questions bearing on what and who is responsible for the accident.
Rely on a Full Service Firm to Handle Your Wrongful Death Case
Nothing can replace a loved one lost as the result of suicide. However, if a person, such as a school administrator, failed to take action—something as simple as a phone call—that could have prevented that loss, you may be entitled to monetary compensation.
If you believe your loss of a loved one was caused, in whole or in part, by another person or entity, you should reach out to an experienced, full-service law firm with expertise in wrongful death claims and a proven track record of success. Like so many others who have placed their trust in us, you can count on Slater & Zurz LLP to thoroughly evaluate your rights concerning the wrongful death of your beloved family member, answer your questions, and advise you concerning how to proceed. Call or email our team of dedicated professionals for a free consultation. We’re here to serve your legal needs with compassion, determination, and the drive to win.
What are the requirements for holding someone else responsible for a loved one’s suicide?
To hold someone or some entity responsible for the wrongful death of a suicide victim, the person or entity must have had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect the individual who committed suicide. A school or a jail or prison with custodial control over the individual has such a duty—the question is how far that duty extends. In addition, the person or entity must have breached the duty in some way.
If a child commits suicide on school grounds after being bullied, and if the school was aware of the bullying and its effect on the individual, the school may be found to be liable depending on the circumstances. Finally, the person’s or entity’s breach of duty must have caused or contributed to the cause of the individual’s death. Knowledge is a critical factor in assessing liability in this type of case. To be liable for someone’s suicide, a person or entity owing a duty to the individual (1) must have had some reason to suspect that the individual might attempt to take his or her own life, and despite that knowledge, (2) must have failed to take action to protect the individual. When a child has committed suicide, these are some questions that should be asked:
Is there any evidence that the victim and/or someone in whom he or she confided reported a bullying incident to a teacher, school counselor, or other responsible person concerning the individual’s thoughts of committing suicide? When was the school, counselor, or law enforcement officer made aware of the problem?
After the teacher, school counselor, or other responsible person learned of the individual’s behavior or statements, what action did that person take or fail to take, and for what reason
Do I have a legal claim for wrongful death if a loved one committed suicide because of something someone else did—or didn’t do?
Often, it is not complicated to link the person responsible for someone’s death with the conduct that caused it. For example, if a drunk driver swerves off the road, striking and killing a pedestrian on the sidewalk, the driver’s negligent or reckless conduct will likely be found to be the cause of the pedestrian’s death. The driver may be charged criminally or sued in a civil action, or both. On the other hand, if a person takes his or her own life, there may be a not-so-obvious cause of that person’s death.
More and more, courts in Ohio and elsewhere are grappling with claims that a third party—for example, a public school system or a law enforcement agency—contributed to someone’s decision to commit suicide. Although it may sound a bit bizarre at first, the conduct of an institution or its employees can have a devastating effect on a vulnerable person whose life is subject to how the institution operates. Kids have to go to school, and people who can’t afford bail may be held in jail even while presumed innocent. In either case, the person cannot escape the treatment he or she receives at the hands of those running the institution. If that treatment is unbearable and seemingly inescapable, the person may see suicide as his or her only option.
Who is responsible for the accident?
Understanding who is at fault in a case like the Fire Ball tragedy can be challenging. There are many parties involved. They include the ride’s manufacturer, owner, and operator; public and private entities tasked with inspecting the ride; and the public and private entities responsible for organizing and operating the fair. Suing the wrong person (using up much, if not all, of the two-year time frame to file suit against the responsible party) is like inadvertently scoring a goal for the opposing team—you waste time and energy helping your adversary win while you gain nothing.
In the Fire Ball case, Amusements of America owned and operated the Fire Ball ride at the fair. A Netherlands-based company, KMG, manufactured the ride. KMG attributed the accident to corrosion in the steel arm that held the gondola. The ride had been in operation since 1998. KMG acknowledged that 19 years is old for a thrill ride but observed that older rides had been operated safely. Until a few years before the incident, KMG provided maintenance on the Fire Ball. The Ohio Department of Agriculture inspected the ride before the fair opened. Amusements of America noted that two companies had previously inspected the Fire Ball. Those companies were later identified as Comspeq and Soil Consultants.
What remedies are available to those killed by a catastrophic event?
When a person dies, as a result of the negligent or unlawful conduct of another, the person’s surviving family members have the right to bring a civil suit for wrongful death against those responsible for the death. The person who has died is referred to as the “decedent.” In Ohio, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years after the death.
Failure to file suit within this period bars the family’s right to recover. Ohio’s wrongful death law specifies the kinds of losses for which a family is entitled to compensation: Loss of support from the reasonably expected earnings of the decedent; Loss of services of the decedent; Loss of the society of the decedent, including loss of companionship, consortium, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, and education, suffered by the decedent’s surviving spouse, dependent children, parents, or next of kin; Loss of prospective inheritance to the decedent’s heirs at law at the time of the decedent’s death; Mental anguish suffered by the decedent’s surviving spouse, dependent children, parents, or next of kin.
The decedent’s estate, which stands in the shoes of the decedent, may recover medical, burial, and funeral expenses, just as the decedent would have been entitled to medical expenses had he or she lived. If the decedent did not die immediately but endured some degree of pain and suffering—whether for a few minutes, a few days, months, or a longer period of time—his or her estate may recover for that pain and suffering just as the decedent would have been able to recover if he or she had lived. To the extent that these costs are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurers, any funds recovered for these costs must be used to reimburse Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers for the amounts initially paid.
What kinds of circumstances have resulted in civil wrongful death cases after a child’s suicide?
Tragically, there are many instances of suicides and corresponding lawsuits arising from bullying, schools’ failure to adequately supervise the students, schools’ failure to notify parents of a child’s suicide attempts at school, and even sexual abuse of children by teachers and other adult school employees. These wrongful death claims focus on individuals and institutions alleged to have a special relationship with the suicide victim and a custodial responsibility, or legal duty to the child, which was not fulfilled.
Could anyone else be held responsible for a dog bite other than the dog’s owner?
Yes. A keeper of a dog may be liable. For example, the dog’s owner leaves a dog with a parent while he or she goes out of town. That parent is the keeper of the dog and has liability if the dog attacks someone. A harborer of a dog may also be liable. A harborer is a person who controls the place where a dog lives. For example, a son or daughter who lives with their parents owns a dog. These parents are harborers.
What is wrongful death?
A “wrongful death” is a death caused by the negligence or unlawful act of another person, a business, a government agency, or an institution such as a school. A wrongful death case is a personal injury lawsuit brought on behalf of surviving family members against the person or entity responsible for causing the death to recover compensation for losing their loved one. Because a wrongful death case is a civil action, it cannot result in a criminal conviction or incarceration. If any person responsible for the death acted intentionally or recklessly, he or she could be charged in a separate criminal action, which can result in imprisonment if the person is found guilty.
There are critical differences between civil wrongful death cases and criminal prosecutions. In a civil action, the person believed to have caused the death may be found liable and ordered to pay money damages if the jury (or judge, if no jury is requested) finds by a “preponderance” of evidence that the accused person caused or contributed to the death.
A preponderance of evidence means that it is more likely than not that the person played a role in causing the death. However, a person cannot be convicted in a criminal case unless the jury finds that he or she is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I.e., that based on the evidence presented, his or her guilt is so certain and obvious that no reasonable person would find that he or she did not commit the crime as charged.
Because of these differences, it is much easier to win a civil verdict for money damages than a criminal conviction resulting in incarceration. A prosecutor’s decision not to file criminal charges does not mean that the victim’s family cannot win a civil wrongful death case. Whether or not criminal charges are filed, if you have a loved one who committed suicide or otherwise died unnecessarily as a result of someone else’s conduct, it is important to consult with a law firm experienced in handling wrongful death cases to determine your rights and likely chances of success if you choose to sue the person or entity responsible for your loved one’s death.
If you have any questions, please contact us for a free consultation and case evaluation. Call us at 1-888-534-4850 on any day of the week including weekends and evenings or send us a website message.