A Father-Son Reconciliation Cut Short by a Wrongful Death

Bob McCarthy* had faced his fair share of challenges. His first marriage had failed, he was estranged from his teenaged son, and he had been hurt at his construction job in Ohio. But Bob was finally rebuilding his life. He was weeks away from marrying again, he was finally healthy and ready to restart work, and he was repairing his relationship with his son. His life was getting back on track when tragedy struck one autumn afternoon.

Bob was driving home on his motorcycle and he had the right of way when a semi-truck driver ran through a stop sign. Bob hit his brakes hard and, realizing he was not going to be able to avoid a collision, tried to protect himself by putting the bike down on its side. In his attempt to avoid the oncoming semi, Bob was tossed from the bike and he rolled toward the approaching truck.

Making matters worse

Shockingly, the truck driver, who was hoping to evade blame for the accident, decided to flee. As he pulled his huge truck away from the motorcycle to head for clear road, he felt a thump, as if he were going over a speed bump. That speed bump was Bob’s chest and head. Realizing what he had done, the trucker panicked, sped off, and left Bob’s lifeless body lying there in the roadway.

A motorist in a nearby car witnessed the incident. She followed the truck back to the company yard and confronted the driver, who denied everything, hopped back into his truck, and took off again. At this point, the motorist informed the police of the accident and provided part of the truck driver’s license plate number. Soon after, the police caught the trucker, and though he initially denied the charges, he eventually confessed to the crime.

Not so obvious

One would think the verdict in a wrongful death case like this would be obvious, but things became complicated. Unbelievably, the trucking company tried to shirk their own responsibility in the accident by blaming Bob, the victim. You see, the autopsy report revealed small traces of alcohol and cocaine in Bob’s blood system. They argued that he was impaired and that had he been stone cold sober, he would have been able to avoid the accident and would still be alive today.

It wasn’t right that Bob was being blamed for his own death. That’s when we knew we had to get involved.

As wrongful death attorneys, we have to examine all the facts of the case—the good and the bad. The autopsy report wasn’t good, but it didn’t paint the complete picture. From the toxicology evidence, we determined that Bob had consumed one beer about two hours before he got on the motorcycle and the cocaine in his system was ingested the night before. Based on that timeline, he would not have been impaired during the accident. The fact that Bob reacted in a quick and logical manner also helped prove this. We also presented testimony that Bob was one of the most skilled and careful motorcyclists around, that he was wearing a helmet, and that he was going the speed limit.

Bad driving record

At the same time, we uncovered that this was not the truck driver’s first accident. We argued that the company had hastily hired him and failed to check his references thoroughly. If they had, they would have learned he was fired previously due to three preventable accidents he was involved in over a very brief period of time.

Although the company that hired the trucker did run his name through an online system that vets the motor vehicle record of commercial drivers, they ignored the advice from their insurance representatives who said the driver was a poor risk and shouldn’t be employed. We argued that the company and their insurance carrier were liable for the accident since they did not do an adequate job of screening their employee, whose conduct and actions were their responsibility.

Family matters

We also spent many hours talking to Bob’s family, friends, and coworkers to gain perspective and offer the jury a complete profile of his character. While Bob had made mistakes in the past, he was making efforts to turn his life around. In many ways, the fact that he was in the process of rekindling his relationship with his son and marrying again made the accident even more tragic.

Ultimately, the jury chose to provide Bob’s estate with monetary compensation. Because Bob’s son was a minor at the time of the accident, we made sure the money was put into a trust so that his son would eventually be able to attend college, purchase a home, and raise a family of his own—all those things that a loving father, like Bob, would have helped provide for his son had his life not ended so tragically.

While a monetary settlement can never make up for the loss of a parent, it can serve as part of their legacy, ensuring that a child left behind can go on to lead a happy and productive life.

*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.

Four Settlements in Ohio Wrongful Death Case Could Save Lives

It’s hard to imagine anything worse happening to a family. Losing a parent and a pillar of the community is horrible. There’s no easy thing about it. And when the driver at fault is barely insured, the additional financial burdens facing the family make it even harder for them to heal and move forward.

Our goals as Ohio wrongful death attorneys are to help ease those burdens and help families begin to heal.

David Morton* was a pastor with a wife, two children, and a congregation that loved him. He had deep roots in the community and a strong faith in God. He was a great father, not only to his own children, but also to kids in the community through his mentoring efforts. Through his pastoring, he touched a lot of people in the area he lived in. He even ran an auto body shop on the side. David was the epitome of a good person: gregarious, warm, giving, and always concerned about those around him.

Early one morning, David’s car was rear-ended on the highway. Both drivers pulled to the side of the road. David got out of his car, called his wife to let her know what happened, and then called 911.

While David spoke to the dispatcher, the other driver, a 19-year-old who had spent the night drinking, decided to flee the scene. He pulled out quickly, swerved around David’s car, and, in doing so, struck David. David got caught under the fleeing car, and his body was dragged down the highway before it came loose. By then, David was dead.

A lack of insurance magnifies a tragic loss

As is often the case with irresponsible, young drivers, the person who killed David had minimal insurance coverage. The state minimum, $25,000, comes nowhere close to taking care of a family who loses a breadwinner. Even the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage that David carried was oriented more towards the costs of replacing or repairing a vehicle, and was of little value in helping the family focus on healing from this tragic loss.

Nevertheless, an agreement with David’s insurance company was just the first settlement we reached on behalf of the Mortons. We knew we had to look deeper to find all the responsible parties and hold them accountable for their actions.

When negligent entrustment leads to wrongful death

Though the drunk driver had little insurance, he did have a long list of traffic offenses, alcohol citations, and criminal arrests. More importantly, he was driving a car that belonged to his father.

In Ohio, there’s a legal claim called negligent entrustment. If the owner of a vehicle knows (or should have known) that a person has a history of negligent, irresponsible, or criminal behavior but entrusts a vehicle to that person anyway, the vehicle owner can be held liable for any negligence that occurs through the use of that vehicle.

Negligent entrustment claims are not pursued very often because they can be difficult to prove. But given the driver’s long criminal and traffic record, we were able to create a convincing case that led the father’s insurance company to settle the claim. This was the second settlement the Mortons received, but we weren’t done yet.

Sending a message to irresponsible party hosts

In our investigation into the accident, we discovered that just before the collision, the driver had been at an all-night party, where he drank until his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. What’s more, many people at the party, the driver included, were under the legal drinking age.

David Morton had strongly believed that every life matters and is worth saving. For his family, this case turned from finding the guilty parties to saving the lives of others. They asked us to help send a message that hosting these kinds of parties and disregarding the aftermath is reprehensible.

In Ohio, it’s the responsibility of a building owner (in this case, an apartment complex) to ensure that all-night parties featuring alcohol and other drugs, particularly to minors, don’t occur on their premises. It’s also the responsibility of the hosts of the party to not let an obviously intoxicated party-goer get behind the wheel of a vehicle (and to not serve alcohol to a minor in the first place).

By receiving a third settlement from the building owner and a fourth from the party hosts, we were able to help the Mortons send an important message: You are responsible for what happens at your party and what your guests do afterwards.

Wrongful death cases are painful and difficult for families, and the settlements reached can only help smooth out the road to healing. The message that such large-dollar settlements send, however, can last a long time and save countless other lives.

At Cooper & Elliott, we want to take on the difficult cases, because we’ve seen the positive effect that justice can have in helping families and communities rebuild and grow.

 

*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.

Wrongful Death Claims Versus Survival Claims: What’s The Difference?

187621262When your client loses a loved one to a case of wrongful death, there are two distinct claims possibilities. The first and most obvious course of action is to file a claim under Ohio’s wrongful death statute. However, if the decedent suffered any conscious pain or suffering before death, even if only briefly, a survival claim also comes into play.

Lawyers who do not have experience handling wrongful death claims often overlook the survival claim – to the detriment of the decedent’s beneficiaries.

How To Define A Wrongful Death Claim
The administrator of the decedent’s estate brings on a wrongful death claim. The types of damages available under a wrongful death claim include:

  • Loss of support from the decedent’s earning capacity
  • Loss of the decedent’s services
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of prospective inheritance
  • Mental anguish

The proceeds recovered in a wrongful death claim are allocated through the probate court. The court adjusts the share of each beneficiary in a manner that’s equitable, taking into account the age and condition of the beneficiaries, the injury and each beneficiary that has suffered as a result of the death.

Since the proceeds are distributed directly to the decedent’s next of kin, there is no estate tax on any claim rewards.

How To Define A Survival Claim
A survival claim is not concerned with damages to the next of kin, but focuses on injuries the decedent suffered during his or her lifetime. Like a wrongful death claim, the decedent’s personal representative brings on a survival claim.

However, the damages from a survival claim are for the decedent’s pain and suffering, and the decedent’s economic losses (such as for lost income and medical expenses). These damages become part of the estate and are distributed according to the decedent’s will (or by statute if the decedent died without a will).

The Differences Between Wrongful Death And Survival Claims
There are several important differences between a wrongful death claim and a survival claim. The following are two examples to help illustrate the contrast between claims:

  • A jury may award punitive damages and attorney fees for a survival claim but not for a wrongful death claim.
  • Insurance companies may assert subrogation rights against proceeds from a survival claim, but not against proceeds from a wrongful death claim.

Understanding the variations and nuances between a wrongful death claim and a survivor claim makes a huge difference in the amount of money the beneficiaries receive.

As a lawyer, you know that each area of a particular practice comes with its own set of complexities. Only years of hard-won experience lend the requisite knowledge necessary to see consistently favorable results for your clients.

Referring your client to an experienced wrongful death attorney is the most reasonable course of action. The right wrongful death attorney will have no qualms about welcoming you onboard to consult on the case. Ultimately, their lead in your client’s lawsuit is going to carve out the most efficient and effective path to justice.

Ready to team up with an experienced wrongful death attorney capable of delivering your clients the best possible results? Call 614-481-6000 or click here to speak with a Plaintiff Protector at Cooper & Elliott.