Q1. What typically happens in a case like this, with multiple wrongdoers?
A. 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 often can provide necessary proof as to 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 any 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 pertaining to equipment maintenance, and other questions bearing on what and who is responsible for the accident.
The success of a complex case such as that arising from the Fire Ball disaster may hinge on the preliminary investigative work performed well before any lawsuit is filed, to ascertain who may be responsible and the role every involved entity played. It is essential to consult with an experienced law firm with knowledge and past successes in handling all aspects of this kind of claim, with access to highly competent investigators, experts, and other professionals who can properly analyze any claim arising from this kind of tragic incident.
Q2. Who is responsible for the accident?
A. 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. The ride was manufactured by a Netherlands-based company, KMG. 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 there are older rides that have 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.
The Ohio Highway Patrol investigated the Fire Ball incident and compiled a 62-page investigative report. According to that report, a photo taken by a fairgoer before the ride collapsed shows a crack running across the back of the gondola where the gondola became detached. The highway patrol’s report noted that Consumer Products Safety Commission inspectors found significant rust and corrosion inside the arm carrying the gondola that became detached.
So it isn’t immediately clear where the fault lies. Was the ride too old? Was its manufacturer or owner at fault for placing a defective product in the market? Was the manufacturer of a defective part incorporated into the finished product at fault? Were the inspections thorough enough? Was the state at fault for either performing inadequate inspections or including an aging “aggressive thrill” ride as one of the fair’s attractions? Was anyone who saw or should have seen the crack depicted in the pre-accident photo, but did nothing, at fault? What bearing did the private companies’ inspections of the Fire Ball have on the state agricultural department’s subsequent inspection? Did one entity’s negligence affect the work of other companies? Was any one person, company, or other entity the primary cause of Tyler Jarrell’s death? A law firm experienced in handling claims involving multiple persons and entities who are potentially at fault will know what questions to ask, and how to get truthful answers.
Q3. What remedies are available to those killed by a catastrophic event?
A. When a person dies, like Tyler Jarrell, 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 any private insurers for the amounts initially paid.
Q4. Rely on a Full Service Firm to Handle Your Wrongful Death Case
A. 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, fullservice 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 with respect to 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.
Q5. What are the requirements for holding someone else responsible for a loved one’s suicide?
A. 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 a 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
Q6. What kinds of circumstances have resulted in civil wrongful death cases after a child’s suicide?
A. 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 some kind of special relationship with the suicide victim and a custodial responsibility, or legal duty to the child, which was not fulfilled.
Q7. What is wrongful death?
A. 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 the loss of 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 can 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.
Q8. 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?
A. 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 the way that 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.
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.