Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In an unpublished opinion, a California Court of Appeal held that the owner and manager of a bar was not responsible for the death of a woman who had been served alcohol and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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In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeals analyzed whether the evidence supported a lower court’s determination that a railroad company was not negligent in regard to the fatalities of two minors who drove their vehicle onto railroad tracks on the morning after Halloween.

In the dark, early morning hours after Halloween in 2007, a Union Pacific Railroad freight train about a mile long and holding three locomotives and 86 cars fatally collided with a sport utility vehicle driven onto the railroad tracks by Renee Ammari and Tanya Sayegh before the accident.

Conductor Glen Lee Holmes and Carl Zipperman, the engineer, operated the train and sat next to each other in the first locomotive cab. The SUV was stuck, and Ms. Ammari and Ms. Sayegh died when the train struck their vehicle. Their parents sued defendants Union Pacific Railroad Company and Glen Lee Holmes for negligence.

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In a recent appeal, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether a personal representative in a wrongful death lawsuit represents the heirs in the proceeding.  While a personal representative may have interests that align with the interests of a particular heir, the rule is that their duty is to stand in the position of the decedent’s heirs. 

Marjorie Fitzpatrick had three children, one of whom was plaintiff Valerie Monschke.  Ms. Monschke enrolled Ms. Fitzpatrick into one of defendant Timber Ridge Assisted Living, LLC’s (Timber Ridge) facilities, due to her mother’s dementia.  Ms. Monschke, acting as power of attorney for her mother,  signed a residency agreement allowing Timber Ridge to provide services for her mother.  This agreement contained an arbitration clause requiring that all claims and disputes be resolved by submission to arbitration.

In her complaint, Ms. Monschke alleged that her mother was allowed to exit an exterior door of the defendant’s facility without supervision.  She suffered a fall and was left outside for 30 to 45 minutes.  She suffered injuries, including a displaced wrist, subarachnoid hemorrhage, downward displaced fracture of the tip of her nasal bone, and bruising.  She died of her injuries two weeks later.

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In a recent California Court of Appeals case, the court addressed whether a claim for an injury, potentially separate from a contributing work-related condition, can be brought against an employer in a civil action.  Typically, work-related injuries are covered by the California Workers’ Compensation Act, and injured employees are barred from bringing an action in tort against the employer. In this case, Lario Melendrez worked for 24 years for Ameron International Corporation (Ameron), where he was exposed to asbestos. In 2011, Mr. Melendrez died of asbestos-related mesothelioma. Mr. Melendrez’s survivors filed a complaint for wrongful death against Ameron, alleging that Mr. Melendrez had been exposed to workplace asbestos and also asbestos at home, since he was permitted to take waste or scrap pipe home. In the 1970s, Mr. Melendrez would bring pipe home as frequently as possible to make flowerpots and add to his patio. Ameron left the state in 1985, and Mr. Melendrez’s employment ended. Years later, he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. The cause of this mesothelioma was determined to be his exposure to asbestos.

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In a wrongful death lawsuit, the California Court of Appeals addressed the standard of care applicable to medical staff, including physicians and surgeons as well as nurses and hospitals in general.

Yvonne Lattimore brought a wrongful death action against the doctors and the medical system at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (Salinas Valley Systems) for the care and treatment of her father, Albert Lattimore. Ms. Lattimore appeals the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The issue on appeal is whether the trial court improperly granted the motion for summary judgment. Ms. Lattimore alleges she presented evidence opposing those motions and raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the treatment of her father violated the applicable standards of care.

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The California Supreme Court recently clarified the standard of causation in workers’ compensation death cases. Recognizing the different causation standards in tort law and the workers’ compensation system, the court in this case determined the contributing factor standard as the appropriate link in work-related injuries.The devastating facts of this case demonstrate that Brandon Clark, 36 years old, fell 8-10 feet while working as a carpenter for his employer. As a result, he suffered neck and back injuries, as well as a concussion. Mr. Clark’s workers’ compensation doctor then prescribed medication to treat his injuries, including antidepressants and pain relievers (Elavil, Neurontin, and Vicodin). Mr. Clark’s personal doctor additionally prescribed an anti-anxiety medicine and a sleep aid (Xanas and Ambien).

Months following the accident, Mr. Clark was pronounced dead when his wife was unable to wake him. He had various drugs in his blood, and his autopsy concluded the death was accidental, the combined effect of some of the drugs he had taken. The issue was which drugs contributed to his death, to what degree, and why were certain drugs prescribed.

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In a recent pedestrian accident case, Killings-Rodriguez v. City of Los Angeles, Cal. Ct. App. (2015), the California Court of Appeals issued a decision regarding the appeal from a summary judgment motion in a case that alleged a certain intersection was dangerously unsafe.

In the case, two girls were crossing the street when they were struck by a car, which killed one of the girls and rendered the other quadriplegic. The girls’ parents sued on their behalf, alleging that the city was liable for a dangerous condition of public property, in that the intersection had poor visibility and a lack of necessary traffic signals or signs, among other arguments.

The driver who hit the girls had stated that he did not see them as he approached the intersection, and that just prior to the collision, he had looked down to change the music that was playing. The trial court found that it was because of the driver’s negligence that the accident occurred. It also relied on the city’s expert witness and an unrelated case in finding on behalf of the city that there was no issue of material fact, and it thus entered summary judgment.

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In a very difficult to discuss fact scenario, Arroyo v. Plosay, 225 Cal. App. 4th 279 (2014), the California Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist., reached a decision regarding the disposition of a case that alleged wrongful death and medical malpractice in the treatment of a woman whom plaintiffs suspected had been wrongfully declared dead, and then somehow suffered injuries to her face.

The relevant complaint for the appeal claimed that the decedent was taken to the hospital (defendant), where she received treatment for cardiac arrest, acute myocardial infarction, and hypertension. Shortly thereafter, the decedent was pronounced dead by hospital employees. The family was then brought in to say their goodbyes before her body was taken to the morgue. When workers for the mortuary that the family had selected by came to pick up the body, they found the decedent lying facedown with a broken nose and facial lacerations and contusions. The injuries had not been present when she had been transported to the hospital, nor when the family saw the decedent after she had been declared dead. The mortuary informed the family of the injuries in the course of preparing the body for the funeral.

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The California Court of Appeal for the 2nd District, recently issued an instructive opinion on the area of medical malpractice wrongful death cases.

In the case, Tam v. Garfield Med. Ctr., Inc., Cal. Ct. App., 2nd Dist. (2014), the plaintiff’s father, Mr. Tam, was involved in a serious car accident and suffered severe injuries to his abdomen and shoulder. He was diagnosed in the emergency room department with peritonitis, hypotension, and fluid in the abdomen. Just before he was to undergo emergency surgery, he was given a dose of morphine, which caused his blood pressure to plummet, sending him into cardiac arrest. He then became unconscious and remained in a coma until surgery. After the surgery, he was sent to the intensive care unit to recover, but he remained in a deep coma and died shortly thereafter.

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