Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In a recent California wrongful death case, an appellate court dismissed a claim against a hospital after it failed to follow a woman’s health care directive stating that she wanted all life-saving measures to be taken. The 70-year-old woman was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and was being treated at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla when she died. Her advance health care directive stated that she wanted all measures taken to prolong her life. The woman designated her son as the person who could make health care decisions for her, and he also told the doctors that he wanted everything done to prolong her life.

However, the hospital did not provide the woman with certain life-support measures because her doctors believed that the measures would have been ineffective and would have caused her to suffer more harm than good. One of her doctors believed that continuing to treat her would cause her additional pain and suffering. He entered a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, but he did not tell the woman’s son about the order at the time. The woman’s son understood that her death was imminent and that she was not going to survive, but he still wanted her advance health-care directive to be followed. The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate while she was at the hospital, and she died several days after her arrival.

Her children sued the hospital, alleging that the hospital failed to provide the life-sustaining treatment she had requested in her advance health care directive, arguing in part that the hospital committed elder abuse by neglecting and physically abusing her.

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The temperate climate of California is perfect for motorcycle enthusiasts. In fact, California offers some of the most popular motorcycle routes, including the views from Big Sur along Highway 1. However, each year as more motorcyclists take the road, there is a corresponding increase in California motorcycle accidents.

This is not to say that the accidents are caused by motorcyclists. Indeed, the majority of motorcycle accidents involving more than one vehicle are later determined to be the fault of the other motorist. The causes of motorcycle accidents vary, but distracted driving, drunk driving, and aggressive driving are among the top causes of fatal motorcycle accidents.

When a motorist’s negligence causes a motorcycle accident, the injured motorcyclist may be able to obtain compensation for any injuries sustained in the crash through a personal injury lawsuit. If successful, a plaintiff may be able to recover compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering caused by the accident.

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As a general matter, California landowners have an obligation to ensure that their property is safe for those whom they invite onto their land. The extent of the duty owed by a landowner to a visitor depends largely on the relationship between the parties and the reason for the guest’s visit.

In California premises liability cases, courts require a plaintiff to establish four basic elements, as outlined in California Civil Jury Instructions section 1000:

  • The defendant owned, leased, or was in control of the property;
  • The defendant was negligent in the maintenance of the property;
  • The plaintiff was harmed; and
  • The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

Of course, there are many nuances to premises liability law that can alter the apportionment of liability. For example, if a dangerous condition is so obvious that a person could reasonably be expected to notice it, the landowner has no duty to warn the guest of the hazard. That being said, these determinations are made by courts on a case-by-case basis, and anyone considering a premises liability lawsuit should consult with a dedicated California personal injury attorney to discuss their case in more detail.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California wrongful death case requiring the court to determine the validity of an arbitration agreement. Specifically, the court had to decide whether the arbitration agreement could be enforced against the deceased’s son, when he signed the agreement on behalf of his father.

California Arbitration Agreements

An arbitration agreement is a contract between parties that preemptively agrees to settle any future claims that may arise between the parties through arbitration, rather than through the court system. The benefits to arbitration mainly inure to the company creating the contract, since that is the party that has the opportunity to choose the arbitration forum. In addition, arbitration is widely considered to be less expensive and more expedient than the traditional court system. Thus, it can be seen why large companies hope to arbitrate claims against them.

However, arbitration is not normally in the interest of an accident victim, who is less familiar with the forum and may be less concerned about the cost of litigation. Additionally, arbitration presents strict, non-uniform procedural rules that, if not followed, may result in the waiver of a valid claim.

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When a loved one is tragically killed, the victim’s relatives often suffer an immense emotional and financial toll. Family members may suffer from a loss of income, as well as a loss of companionship, support, and consortium. A California wrongful death claim is one way for the aggrieved loved ones to obtain compensation for their loss. These wrongful death claims must be brought by the decedent’s spouse, domestic partner, children, and certain heirs, or a dependent putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, and parents, or a decedent’s minor dependents in some circumstances. The goal of the wrongful death lawsuit is to allow certain persons to recover compensation for the loss resulting from the decedent’s death.

To prove a wrongful death claim in California, a plaintiff must show that there was a wrongful act, a resulting death, and damages suffered by the plaintiff. Any person or entity whose wrongful act caused the decedent’s death is a potential defendant in a wrongful death claim. Generally, wrongful death actions must be brought within two years of the date of the wrongful act.

A plaintiff can recover damages for financial benefits the plaintiff would have received from the decedent, including “necessities of life,” other financial contributions, and the increased estate the plaintiff would likely have received; loss of services, advice, or training the plaintiff would likely have received from the decedent; loss of their companionship, comfort, and affection; and funeral and burial expenses.

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In a recent California injury case, an appellate court ordered the losing parties to pay additional costs because they rejected a settlement offer before trial. In that case, two individuals died in a fire that occurred in a home they were renting. One was a three-year-old child, and the other was a 49-year-old mother. After the fire, the victims’ families sued the owners of the home.

Before trial, the plaintiffs made an offer to settle both claims for $1.5 million, but the defendants rejected the offer. The case went to trial, and the plaintiffs won, with the jury awarding the plaintiffs $2.2 million in the mother’s claim and $357,000 in the child’s claim. After the trial, the court ordered the defendants to pay additional costs because the defendants rejected the settlement offer.

Costs Under Section 998

Generally, the party that wins in a civil case can recover certain costs. In addition, in California, section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure punishes a party that refuses a reasonable settlement offer by allowing the offering party to recover certain costs. Section 998 allows the prevailing party to recover additional costs and fees that are not generally available, such as expert witness fees.

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According to a recent study by UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation and Research Education Center, obese drivers have been determined to be up to 78% more likely than normal weight drivers to suffer fatalities in a car crash. The research center is affiliated with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Studies.  Despite the increase in safety technology for both commercial and personal vehicles, the findings show that there is a substantial difference in fatalities for heavier accident victims.  The study is significant because obesity is an ongoing issue in the nation, and the numbers of obese individuals are rising, meaning that fatal car accidents could increase despite potentially safer vehicles. Unlike overweight people, with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9, obese individuals are classified as having a body mass index above 30.

Throughout Southern California, car accident victims can suffer a range of injuries in a collision.  After researching over 41,000 collisions and narrowing research to vehicles of the same size, the data was also controlled for factors such as gender of drivers, failure to wear a seatbelt, alcohol use, and collision type.

Our Southern California car accident lawyers believe that the relationship between obesity and injury outcomes is important, but it is also important to recognize that regardless of the victim’s characteristics, there are legal remedies that provide relief to the victim and their family.  In the case of a fatal accident, the family or their legal representatives have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim against all at-fault parties.

In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a judgment in favor of the City of Pasadena, after the trial court held that the plaintiff had not set forth evidence supporting his negligence claim, nor had he shown that he suffered damages, emotional distress, physical injuries, or property damage due to the underlying incident.  In the underlying case, the plaintiff had proceeded in pro per, meaning that he was not represented by legal counsel.

At issue before the appellate court was whether the appellant had presented an adequate record for review of his wrongful death action. The court of appeals stated that the burden is on the party that appeals the lower court judgment.  They must demonstrate an error, and in doing so, they must supply an adequate record for the reviewing court to assess the lower court’s actions.

The plaintiff in this case filed a wrongful death action, alleging that the City of Pasadena’s fire department paramedics negligently transported his son to an emergency room after his son suffered gunshot wounds by a third party.  The trial court eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the City after the City’s requests for admissions showed that the plaintiff admitted he did not have evidence supporting his allegation of negligence. Additionally, the requests for admissions showed that he had not suffered compensatory damages, emotional distress, physical injuries, or property damage due to the incident.  Judgment had been entered for the City.

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In an unpublished opinion, a California Court of Appeal held that the owner and manager of a bar was not responsible for the death of a woman who had been served alcohol and allowed to drive home while intoxicated.   In reaching this conclusion, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to sustain the defendants’ demurrer to the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint. Specifically, the court rejected the argument that there was an applicable exception to the general rule that serving alcohol does not render a person liable for any resulting injuries.

The decedent in this case was a 27-year-old wife and mother who lost control of her car while driving while intoxicated. The plaintiffs in this case were the son, husband, and parents of the decedent. They brought a lawsuit against the owner and manager of the bar where the woman had been drinking before driving, alleging that they had been negligent in serving her alcohol and allowing her to then drive.

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In a personal injury lawsuit following a devastating drowning accident of two toddlers, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant landowner.  The issues before the court in this appeal included standing, or the ability of the plaintiff to pursue legal claims against the landowner and renter of the property, as well as whether the plaintiff had demonstrated that the landlord owed a duty of care.

Jason Bradford brought a lawsuit against Terrence Mann, individually and as a trustee of the Terrence W. Mann Trust, for negligence and wrongful death after the death of his two children in a swimming pool on Mr. Mann’s rental property.  The trial court had granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Mann, finding that Mr. Bradford could not establish causation for his negligence claim and could not prove neglect by Mr. Mann for the wrongful death claim, nor did he have standing to pursue his wrongful death claim.

Mr. Bradford contended Mr. Mann owed him a duty of care regarding his toddler children, and triable issues remained as to whether Mr. Mann’s conduct as a landlord breached that duty.

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