Cooper & Elliott Blog

Justice for a Wrongful Death Sabotaged By Irresponsibility

Posted on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 @ 11:14 AM

One summer day, Jim Harrison*, 45, a married father of two young girls, noticed water dripping from the ceiling, so he went up to the attic to take a look. The source of the water, it turned out, was a leaking condensation pump from an attic-mounted air-conditioning unit they’d been having problems with. Unbeknownst to Jim, the business that had installed and later unsuccessfully attempted to fix the AC unit (we’ll call the firm “AC Company”) had also left an electrical socket exposed and open, without a plastic guard to protect the wiring.

As Jim was surveying the scene, standing on wet insulation, he accidentally came into contact with the exposed socket and was electrocuted. His wife found him 45 minutes later, lying across the AC unit. She called rescue workers and they worked on him, but it was too late. Jim was dead, and his family lost a loving husband and father.

Pursuit of justice wins a sizable verdict

We sued AC Company, and it was a brutal fight. Among other things, the company denied that it installed the condensation pump or the improperly mounted electrical socket. But a search of the attic revealed the box the condensation pump had come in, and it had stickers on it that led to AC Company. At that point, we knew we had the supporting evidence we needed.

The case went to trial and, after carefully considering our evidence, the jury delivered a sizable judgment: $3.5 million for Jim’s wife and two young daughters. It was a tremendous result, important to Jim’s family and one of the biggest verdicts in that county’s history.

Unaccountable for a wrongful death

It turned out our battle had just begun. Besides creating fatally dangerous conditions in a customer’s home, AC Company was also underinsured. It only had insurance coverage of $500,000. On top of that, its insurer claimed that because the company had installed the unit improperly, the policy didn’t cover the damages Jim’s family had suffered.

Sadly, in the case of Jim Harrison’s wrongful death, although we fought like heck against the insurance company all the way through the court of appeals, an insurance loophole meant Jim’s family couldn’t collect the large verdict they deserved for their pain and suffering.

It was a terrible blow. On the one hand, we helped Jim’s family achieve what they’d been after: to get answers, to find out why and how this tragedy happened, and hopefully to prevent AC Company from jeopardizing a family’s safety again. On the other hand—and years later, it’s still hard for us to conceive—an irresponsible business and its insurer walked away from a $3.5 million verdict without having to pay a penny.

Overcoming tragedy

Although Jim’s family never received the outcome they deserved, we found other ways to help them through those difficult times. As wrongful death lawyers, we’ve seen the profound emotional stress victims’ families are put through, and we make it a priority to be more than just attorneys for our clients. We become sounding boards, confidants, friends…and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on.

To this day, we remain great friends of Jim’s daughters, watching as they grow and heal and find ways to deal with the inexplicable death of their father. While it’s true we’ll always be haunted by the injustice of AC Company and its insurer avoiding their financial and ethical responsibilities, it’s also comforting to know that Jim’s family got some of the answers they were seeking and that they’ve been able to move on from this senseless tragedy.

Protecting yourself

One final thought: If you hadn’t already gathered from reading our blog, there are irresponsible, dangerous people out there who can do harm through their recklessness or negligence. What’s more, these people are often improperly insured. We see this all the time, especially with drunk or negligent drivers.

You need to protect yourself. For example, if you don’t have at least $500,000 of underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance, look into getting some. It’s usually pretty affordable. And if there’s an auto accident, it may offer the greatest protection against you not being financially compensated by an uninsured motorist.

The same goes for homeowner’s insurance. Check your policy or talk to your agent to see that you or your family members will be covered for injuries that occur on your own property, even if those injuries were caused by someone else.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy. 

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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