Construction Errors, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, and the Death of an Unborn Child

Few things in life are more joyous than the arrival of a healthy newborn baby. But that feeling of joy quickly dissipates when parents learn the awaited day of birth will never arrive.

In this case, our clients experienced that grief firsthand. Their despair was only compounded when they learned there was evidence—strong evidence—that the loss of their unborn child was likely caused by external conditions that could have been avoided.

How were they to react upon learning the loss of their child may not have been caused by a natural miscarriage? That the child could be alive if not for someone else’s negligence?

As Ohio wrongful death attorneys, we look at the facts of a case objectively and root out what happened and why. We then do what it takes to help our clients follow a path of legal action that can ease their suffering and repair their loss—and do it without amplifying their suffering.

A hidden threat to one family’s security

Mark* and Stephanie* were excited about moving into their brand-new home with their one-and-a-half-year-old son. Mark was a police officer and Stephanie was a nurse. Their future was bright.

When construction was completed, the family moved in to their new home. Shortly after that, Stephanie discovered she was pregnant with their second child. They were elated about their growing family, and particularly delighted when they learned the baby would be a boy. Ten weeks into the pregnancy, visits to the doctor confirmed the pregnancy was progressing normally. The baby Stephanie was carrying was healthy and growing.

This was in the fall of 2015. As the days turned colder, Mark and Stephanie noticed something odd was happening in their new house. A fine soot was accumulating on the walls and on the tops of cabinets. They would clean it only to have it reappear in a few days. With the windows of the house closed, they didn’t know how the dirt was getting in.

A nuisance turns fatal

Around that same time, their toddler became chronically cranky and stopped sleeping through the night. At first, they suspected a normal childhood malady such as an ear infection. Their doctor ruled out that diagnosis, but he wasn’t sure what was wrong. He prescribed antibiotics, but medication brought no improvement.

Stephanie was getting frequent headaches and experiencing bouts of nausea. She couldn’t understand the reason for her sudden discomfort. After all, she was nearly through the first trimester of her pregnancy. Why the nausea now?

A checkup at 11 weeks confirmed that everything was fine with the pregnancy. But at the 13-week checkup, Stephanie’s doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby.

A few days later, Stephanie underwent a painful surgery to remove the remains of the baby she and her family had already come to love.

The cause of a wrongful death

Mark contacted the construction company about the continuing soot buildup. An inspection of the premises revealed the problem: An air shutter valve in the gas fireplace had been installed improperly. The result was that the fireplace (which the family had been running in the colder months) produced an excess carbon residue that accounted for the “soot” accumulating in the house.

But the faulty valve had a much more serious consequence. It was leaking carbon monoxide into the house—at levels low enough to avoid setting off the carbon monoxide detectors or to be immediately fatal, but high enough to gradually poison the family.

And enough to lead to the death of their unborn son.

Seeking justice outside the courtroom

The improper installation of the air shutter valve was clearly a failure on the part of the construction company. And through Stephanie’s medical records, and research about the effects of carbon monoxide on infants in utero, we were convinced the miscarriage had been a direct result of the construction company’s negligence.

But Mark and Stephanie were reluctant to pursue a lawsuit. Stephanie had suffered enough trauma from the miscarriage and the surgery that followed it, and didn’t want to relive it in a legal proceeding. They agreed it wasn’t right for the contractors to get away with such negligence, but they didn’t want to bring public attention to their personal family tragedy through litigation, either. We understood.

The construction company’s insurance adjuster initially treated the incident as if it were a nuisance to be brushed aside. He offered a settlement amount that didn’t begin to address the family’s suffering. So we waited to respond and continued to gather convincing medical evidence as if we were going to court.

Finally, we were contacted by the insurance adjuster. We told him, in effect, that if he was anxious to close out this case (which he was), he would have to make a serious offer. We presented our evidence, and after several volleys of offers and counteroffers, the adjuster finally came back with a proposal that we felt was appropriate. The final offer was than seven times his initial offer.

Our clients accepted the offer—all without having to go through depositions and a public hearing.

Mark and Stephanie could use the settlement to repair and clean their home or seek out a new home. They could put the tragedy behind them and focus on their family’s future.

No two clients are alike

Whether a tragedy involves personal injury or a wrongful death, each family’s needs are different. Some need a trial and jury verdict to vindicate their suffering. Others, like Mark and Stephanie, simply want compensation that is just and discreet.

Legal counsel should be attuned to people’s individual needs. We believe that, to effectively represent our clients, we need to know not only the law and the facts of the case, but also where, for each client, healing begins.

Give us a call—we’re here to help.

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

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

Keep the Jury Out: Why Settlements Are Often Better Than Verdicts

It’s a suspenseful moment. The jury members file into the jurors’ box. The judge asks the defendant to rise. And then the jury’s foreman reads the verdict. The revelation of the jury’s verdict has been a staple of television courtroom dramas from “Perry Mason” to “Law & Order.”

It can make for gripping television. But in the real world of civil litigation, where real people have suffered actual (often devastating) harm and seek just compensation, a jury verdict is not always the best outcome for our clients—even when that verdict is in our clients’ favor.

Why? Because, more often than not, what clients really want is to take something meaningful from a personal, professional, or family tragedy. A jury’s verdict cannot begin to match the healing potential of a carefully crafted settlement agreement.

Let’s give you some examples.

These three cases involving wrongful deaths show what settlement agreements can do that jury verdicts can’t. They also demonstrate how the impact of those agreements can reach beyond the victims’ families.

Ensuring proper testing of life-saving technology

One case involved the death of an elderly woman whose family had entrusted a senior living facility with her life. One night, the woman experienced a medical emergency and used her personal alert pendant to call for help. The alarm summoned an emergency medical squad, but sent them to the wrong address. Sadly, the woman was found dead hours later, still clutching the pendant that was supposed to help protect her.

None of the parties involved—the senior living facility, the company that made and installed the alarm system, or the company that monitored and responded to the system’s alarms—was willing to accept responsibility for the woman’s death. It took a lawsuit to sort it all out.

As part of the settlement agreement, the senior facility, at the family’s insistence, agreed to execute routine testing of the alarm systems in all its 300 nationwide facilities. The company agreed to provide signed and notarized certifications proving that testing had been completed.

The family wanted their mother’s death to mean something more than what financial compensation could provide. They wanted to ensure that such avoidable heartbreak would never be repeated.

Holding property management accountable for safety protocol

Another case involved the tragic death of a 4-year-old boy that could easily have been prevented. In his family’s apartment, the child tried to climb onto an electric stove, which tipped over and killed him.

The potential for this type of accident was known and could have been avoided easily had the apartment’s management company installed the recommended brackets that would have kept the stove from tipping over.

The case was resolved with a settlement that included a unique provision. Because their loss was so preventable, the family insisted that the property owners produce and broadcast a public service announcement to alert other property owners about the importance of using the anti-tip brackets. Again, they wanted their son’s death to have real meaning in helping to protect the lives of others.

Impacting legislation to prevent future wrongful death

One final example involved the death of a tow truck operator. He was hitching up a disabled vehicle on the side of the road at night. Even though all his warning lights were working as required, a passing car failed to change lanes and struck the operator. He was killed instantly.

To help the victim’s mother cope with her terrible loss, the settlement agreement in her case included the opportunity for her to meet with legislators. She lobbied for legislative changes in her state’s Move Over Law so that drivers would be required to change lanes not only for law enforcement vehicles, but also when seeing the flashing yellow lights of any emergency vehicle.

Turning grief to good is beyond the scope of juries

What all three of these cases have in common is that the surviving victims of the wrongful deaths were looking to take something meaningful—and even positive—out of their personal tragedies. That is not unusual.

Answers and assurance can provide healing that a monetary award cannot, and the litigation process helps produce both. Those remedies—and provisions for their enforcement—are simply not available in the courtroom. In civil litigation, juries have no power to compel specific actions on the part of any of the litigants. They can award compensation for damages, and that compensation is critical and necessary for the survivors. But it is also, too often, not enough.

That’s why settlements may provide a more appropriate resolution for clients. It gives survivors the best opportunity to make provisions that draw meaning from tragedy and, hopefully, accelerate the healing process.

If you find yourself in a situation involving personal injury or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

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

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

A Conditional Settlement Helps One Family Heal

As Ohio civil litigation attorneys, our focus is always on one thing: to help our clients find justice and hold the wrongdoers accountable. That means taking the time to understand our clients’ point of view and the extent of their pain. It means digging for the facts and going beyond the obvious to uncover what’s critical.

It also means, for each case and every client, determining what constitutes genuine justice.

Money alone is rarely sufficient, especially when the case involves a wrongful death or life-altering injury. What makes someone whole after a devastating loss? Are there ways not only to compensate for damages but also open possibilities for bringing an individual or family closer to healing?

A case of mistaken location

Let’s revisit a case we first brought to your attention last year. It’s a case rapidly moving toward a final resolution. It provides a prime example of how a settlement agreement can not only compensate for a loss but begin to render meaning to a family tragedy.

The case involved the wrongful death of Dorothy Kramer*, an elderly woman who lived in an assisted-living center. One morning, alone in her apartment, Dorothy pressed the emergency pendant she wore around her neck to summon emergency medical attention. The alarm was one of the services provided by the center, and it summoned an EMS unit just as it was supposed to do.

But it failed to bring them to Dorothy.

The EMS team was directed to the wrong address, across the hall from Dorothy’s apartment. Because false alarms in these situations are not uncommon, the EMS team decided that they must have been called in error, and left the premises. No one checked on Dorothy.

She was discovered hours later—alone, sitting in a chair, still clutching the alarm that she and her family had believed would prevent her from dying unattended.

Plenty of blame to go around in wrongful death

Of course, Dorothy’s passing in this manner was a tragedy. It certainly didn’t have to happen the way it did. Safeguards had been instituted to assure that appropriate emergency medical attention would be available as needed. Yet somewhere there had been a breakdown in the system, leading to a result no one wanted.

Naturally, the Kramer family wanted answers. Why did this happen? How could this have happened? But satisfactory answers were not forthcoming, so the family came to us.

There were three main players in this drama, and instead of accepting appropriate responsibility, all three were busy pointing fingers of blame. The company that owned and operated the senior living center denied any responsibility for the failure of the alarm system to perform as promised. The company that manufactured and installed the alarm system denied any responsibility for the failure of the EMS response team to make sure it had arrived at the correct address. And the company that monitored the alarm system and sent the EMS unit denied any responsibility for the system’s failure to correctly identify Dorothy’s location.

With each of the parties refusing to accept responsibility, we filed a civil lawsuit against all three companies.

Settlement discussions have been under way with the three companies, each of which is finally beginning to cooperate. In fact, we’re nearing the point of closure and don’t anticipate this case going to trial. And here, that’s a good thing. We think a settlement—without a trial—will be in the best interest of our client because a settlement is the only way to achieve an important condition that doesn’t involve money.

Salvaging some good through a settlement

Money will always be part of the compensation for damages in a civil litigation case. But so often, that’s only the starting point. What families, victims, and survivors really need is the closure that must happen before real healing can begin. They need answers. They need meaning, drawn from the knowledge that some good can be salvaged from their loss.

In this case, the Kramer family found some additional meaning through a condition we negotiated as part of the settlement. The company that owns the senior living facility will be required to test the alarms it provides its residents. To assure enforcement of this provision, the company must produce a signed, notarized certification that the tests were completed successfully.

This provision applies not only to the facility where Dorothy lived but to all the facilities owned and operated by the company. That amounts to more than 300 facilities in 38 states.

Such a requirement is possible only when there is a settlement agreement. A jury’s scope is limited to determining responsibility and awarding suitable financial compensation. What the jury can’t do is impose a condition on any of the parties in the litigation.

A condition such as the certified testing of literally hundreds of alarm units must be agreed to by the parties involved.

It represents an extra step in the civil litigation process, one that the client’s attorney must be committed to pursuing. But as in the case of Dorothy Kramer, it’s one step that will benefit all parties involved, including future residents of Dorothy’s senior living facility. Their lives will be better protected because of the Kramer family’s foresight and its commitment to doing what’s right.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

*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.

Seeing is Believing: The Benefits of Forensic Animation

In a personal injury or wrongful death case, the jury must understand the difference between what happened and what should have happened in order to deliver a just verdict. It’s our job to make sure jurors understand the evidence so they can sort out the truth about a case. Our success hinges on establishing a connection with jurors, and then effectively communicating to them the significance of the evidence we present.

We work with expert witnesses to help explain evidence. Sometimes the timing and physical nature of events in a case are complex, and demonstrative evidence, such as images and video, comes in handy. Visual evidentiary exhibits often have more power to communicate and can be more memorable than words alone. But static images and videos taken from a single point of view have limitations.

Enter forensic animation, an emerging technology in demonstrative evidence, which is playing an increasingly larger role in civil litigation.

How forensic animation brings a case to life

Video or photos taken at the scene of an event can only present facts from one perspective and therefore can’t always tell the whole story. Forensic animation, on the other hand, virtually recreates events—and can do so from multiple perspectives. In addition, it can slow down action or zoom in to reveal critical details.

Using full-motion computer graphics to recreate events, forensic animation can help jurors visualize a car crash or an assault crime, and it can even demonstrate a product failure that resulted in a personal injury or wrongful death.

Forensic animation relies on the same computer-driven technology used in action films and the same advanced forensic science used by law enforcement. The images are compiled from a variety of sources and perspectives: police officers, forensic experts, engineers, eyewitness statements, security and body cameras, even autopsies.

For a car crash, the simulation would include data gathered at the scene, details about the terrain, weather, and traffic conditions at the time of the accident, police photographs, and more.

In medical malpractice cases, computer-aided animation, or medically demonstrative technology, is used to explain medical conditions or injuries.

In other types of civil litigation cases, the goal is the same but the subject matter is different. Take an example from a few years ago. It involved a high-speed car chase in Cleveland that led to officers shooting a suspect. Because there was sufficient video of the chase and the shooting, from several perspectives, an animation was made that re-created the event in comprehensive detail—even to the point of following the paths of individual bullets. Forensic animation filled information gaps, leaving little doubt as to how the event played out.

There is usually a wealth of information available with which to build an animation if attorneys are willing to put in the effort to find it. (And, of course, we are.)

Demonstrative evidence provided, jurors decide the truth

Forensic animation likely never will replace other types of evidentiary exhibits in civil litigation cases. Nor will it replace expert testimony. But it is a powerful tool that enhances both. There will still be times when we want to use a good old-fashioned photograph, blown up, mounted on poster board, and placed in front of the jury for an extended period of time. We can’t do that with an animation.

Civil litigation attorneys can use these tools to support their respective cases, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the jury to determine the truth.

The key for us is knowing which demonstrative evidence tools to use, and when, in order to build our clients’ cases most effectively.

 Connect with us—we’re here to help.

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

A Child’s Wrongful Death Leaves a Legacy of Hope

The death of a small child is a tragedy no family should have to endure. But sometimes it happens, and the family members must carry the grief with them for the rest of their lives.

In a wrongful death case, a family sues the party responsible for the death of their loved one. If during the lawsuit, the family decides to settle the case, they might insist that part of the settlement includes action that will make such tragic events less likely to happen in the future. To look beyond your own grief and try to do what’s right for others takes a special kind of strength—and it helps to have Ohio wrongful death attorneys who are willing to look beyond the obvious to make it happen.

A family’s daily struggle turns tragic

It was fall when the Smith* family moved into an apartment complex in central Ohio. The complex, which had been purchased three years earlier by an out-of-state company, was run down, and the new owner did little to make upgrades or basic repairs. On moving day, the Smiths found themselves in a unit that was in much worse condition than the one they had been shown when they signed their lease.

As winter came and the temperature dropped, the Smiths noticed the heating system for their apartment was not working well. They made numerous attempts to get the property’s management team to address the issue, but by February the heating system was still not fixed.

The Smiths—with three small children, ages 2, 4 and 7—did what other families in the complex were doing to make their winter days livable. They used an electric space heater, covered drafty windows as best they could with plastic, and, on the coldest days, resorted to turning on their apartment’s old electric stove.

One morning, Mrs. Smith was in the back bedroom with her 2-year-old daughter, while her 4-year-old son was playing a video game in another room. At one point, Mrs. Smith heard the game become idle and asked her daughter to find out where her brother had gone.

The little girl came back and said, “He’s in the oven.”

Wrongful death and a family’s grief

Mrs. Smith rushed to find her 4-year-old son with the stove tipped over on top of him, his lower half trapped in the oven. While we may never know exactly what happened, it seems the boy had tried to climb on the stove, causing it to tip over onto him and pin him to the floor. He couldn’t call out, or even breathe.

His mother tried to administer CPR and called 911. The emergency squad arrived, but it was all to no avail. The little boy had died from asphyxiation from being pinned under the stove.

The Smiths struggled with their grief and feelings of guilt for nearly 18 months before they contacted us about a potential wrongful death action. That kind of delay is not unusual in cases like this. Families need time to deal with the impact of the tragedy, and with feelings of guilt that, in cases like this, are unavoidable but never deserved.

The weight of property management negligence

As the Smiths’ attorneys, we investigated how a stove could be tipped over by a 4-year-old child. We talked to maintenance personnel, responders to the scene, and officials for the city where the apartment complex was located. We interviewed industry experts and spent a great deal of time putting together the history of stoves, how they’re made, and if there were steps that the property owners should have taken to prevent the child’s death.

As it turned out—there were.

Older models of electric stoves were prone to being top heavy, and to prevent them from tipping, oven manufacturers began requiring that anti-tip brackets be installed to secure the stove to the floor. That safety standard had been in place since 1991. The Consumer Product Safety Commission did a study about anti-tip brackets, and there have been several notable lawsuits filed over the years regarding failure to use them.

It’s a fix that takes about 10 minutes and costs about $10. And in this case, the brackets would have saved a child’s life. But they were never installed.

We learned from members of the maintenance crew that they had started to install the anti-tip brackets in some units but were instructed not to because it was slowing down their work orders. That left some stoves in the apartment complex with brackets. It left others, like the Smiths’, without brackets, waiting to tip.

A settlement for the sake of safety

We filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the Smiths, but after much investigation and a round of mediation, the family reached a settlement with the property management company.

In cases like this, a settlement has some advantages over going to trial. First, it’s less time consuming and costly for all parties. It also allowed the family to avoid reliving their trauma again and again while preparing for depositions and trial. But, perhaps most importantly, a settlement allows plaintiffs to ask for conditions beyond money. In a trial, all a jury can do is award money. It’s a horrible substitute for the loss of a child, but it’s all a jury can do.

The Smiths, to their credit, wanted something more. They wanted to be sure that some good could come out of the tragedy of their son’s death. As part of their settlement, they asked that the property management company prepare and issue a public service announcement to alert other property owners about the importance of using anti-tip brackets.

Hopefully, you never find yourself in a similar situation, but if you do, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

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

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

Catching Up with CSI: Medically Demonstrative Technology

We have tried many personal injury and wrongful death cases over the years, and there have been plenty of instances where we’ve asked medical experts to testify about what did or didn’t happen to the plaintiff. Jurors have enough information to process throughout a trial as it is, and expecting them to comprehend in just a few hours what might take medical professionals years to understand is asking a lot. Thanks to advancements in medically demonstrative technology, conveying information to a jury has become much more efficient.

Uses of medically demonstrative technology

In the past, expert witnesses have used anatomical models, illustrations, or photos to demonstrate medical conditions and injuries to judges and juries. Today, computer programs and applications have replaced some of those methods and offer experts more sophisticated tools for use in court.

Animation allows juries to see more accurate, real-time and to-scale representations of injuries or medical conditions. CT scans and MRIs not only offer more detailed visuals, they allow juries to see evidence of the plaintiff’s actual injuries instead of having to conceptualize them from a generic diagram or photograph. We once showed a jury an animation of how oxygenated blood moves from a mother to her baby before the baby is born. This was much easier to grasp than a static presentation with a lecture ever would have been.

Applications and programs

Innovative programs and apps represent further leaps forward in medically demonstrative technology. One of the latest lets a jury view specific parts of the body in detail. An expert or attorney can pull up the application on his or her iPad and view the human body layer by layer—they can choose to display the skeleton, or the digestive system, or the nervous system, etc. It’s an excellent way to give juries a close-up look at the human body—and to keep the jury’s attention.

An expert on the witness stand explaining a nerve injury can click an image to show exactly how an injury occurred from multiple angles. The expert can show the view that a surgeon would see while operating, and illustrate (for example) where the surgeon made an error. It’s far more vivid and effective than an old-fashioned two-dimensional presentation.

If you’re thinking you’ve seen something similar on television recently, you probably have. It’s the kind of tech that CSI and other shows have used for a long time—though it’s taken longer to make its way into real-world courtrooms.

Giving expert witnesses authority

Another advantage of medically demonstrative technology is that it gives expert witnesses more authority. Equipped with medically demonstrative tech, expert witnesses become teachers who can show how something happened and why, rather than just lecturers who recite their version of an event. To a jury, a teacher who can demonstrate what happened and why is more appealing than a dry lecturer. Plus, when an expert witness projects the authority of a teacher, it’s harder for a defense attorney to accuse the expert of not being objective.

As is the case with any witness, however, there are sometimes questions of accuracy when experts use medically demonstrative technology. Judges want to know if the software program or app is correctly showing what it claims to show. As such technology becomes more commonplace, precedent can help establish its accuracy. Nevertheless, we still make sure our experts can vouch for the technology they use in each individual case. In the case of an app that creates a custom model from actual medical records, for example, we need to be sure the model is accurate and that the expert is familiar enough with the model to say so.

We also must ensure the technology presents a model clearly and accurately because we may only have one opportunity to present it to a jury. Much of the time, jurors can’t ask to see a medically demonstrative technology display again the way they can re-examine a photo or medical record that has been entered into evidence.

Personal injury or wrongful death case?

We believe it’s important to use every available tool to fight for our clients in personal injury or wrongful death cases, and medically demonstrative technology is but one of those tools. If you’ve been harmed and need legal assistance from Ohio civil litigation attorneys who work only with the best experts and tools, give us a call.

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

Positioning the Jury as the Protagonist

For personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, clear, effective communication is a vital element of any successful case. A key theme we’ve discussed before is how good communication with our clients enables us to seek justice and healing on their behalf. In this post, we’re going to examine effective communication from another perspective: that of the juror.

The story of a case

In a sense, communicating to a jury is much like storytelling. What we’ve found works best is to make jury members feel as if they’re protagonists in our client’s story. We want them to understand that while the story may have started with our client and the defendant, it’s now in their hands to determine the story’s ending. We remind them of the power they hold to change someone’s future.

How to tell the story

Many other attorneys may employ the tactic of showcasing their client’s struggles in the aftermath of the defendant’s bad behavior. This technique helps the jury understand the client’s injuries so the jury will want to act in his or her favor—which is a fine place to start, but we take a slightly different approach: we focus on the defendant’s conduct.

Especially in this world of conservative juries and the supposed need for tort reform, it can be extremely important to focus on a defendant’s wrongful conduct or detail the rules they’ve broken.  Juries need to understand why a defendant’s conduct violated the explicit or implied rules and standards that everyone expects all members of the community to follow to keep the community safe. So, during all parts of the trial—opening statements, presenting evidence, and closing arguments—we focus much of our storytelling effort on the defendant’s conduct and how it violated community standards.

This approach also makes sense from a purely legal perspective. In civil litigation, the plaintiff can’t ask jurors to put themselves in their shoes (what’s known as a “golden rule argument”), because judges want juries to objectively consider the facts of a case, rather than respond in an emotional manner. Concentrating on the defendant’s wrongdoing and how it violated community standards helps ensure objective decision-making.

Clarifying the rules

It’s important to establish and emphasize the safety rules in question, and then show how the defendant has breached those rules. “Safety rules” often take the form of laws or regulations designed to protect people in a community. Traffic laws, for instance, are well documented safety rules—an accident caused by a driver who runs a red light, is a straightforward example of a broken safety rule which results in negative consequences.

In other circumstances, when there isn’t a specific law or regulation to point to, the recognized standards in the defendant’s industry or community serve as the safety rules.  A plaintiff often establishes those rules through expert witness testimony.  In medical malpractice cases, for example, an expert witness—a competent general practice doctor or surgeon—can help the jury understand what standard of care should be expected in a given medical situation. And sometimes, even the defendant’s own employees or representatives admit that a certain safety rule applies.

By using testimony from expert witnesses and from the defendant’s own representatives to establish safety rules, we take a difficult concept that most jurors don’t have direct experience with and break it down into something they can understand.

Jurors: Voices of the community

We strive to present our case in a way that lets jurors see themselves as active protagonists in the story that results in justice being served. We reinforce that their role is more than just listening to two opposing parties presenting evidence—it is to act as the voice of their community, and in essence decide what their community’s standards of care and safety rules are and will be.

How we communicate this idea varies with the facts and nature of each case. For instance, we had a business case where one of the themes we emphasized was simply that there should be more morality in business. There had been so many stories in the news about businesses acting dishonorably that we decided to emphasize a community standard of not giving a “free pass” for wrongful conduct just because it occurred in the business conduct. We reminded jurors that through their verdict, they could act as the voice of their community and deliver a powerful message. Their message could establish that morality is important in their community—even in business—and that the community would not tolerate the type of conduct that the defendant tried to get away with..

That kind of power and responsibility can be an excellent motivator for jury members to do the right thing on behalf of our clients and their community.

Connecting through honesty

Finally, how we communicate to juries is just as important as what we communicate. As a trial lawyer, to be the most effective we must open up and connect with the jury on a personal level.

While legal argument is important in each case, we try not to hide ourselves or our clients behind complex legal language.  We let our personalities come through so we can connect with jurors as people. Connecting with someone this way leads to better communication, which in turn makes it more likely that jurors will understand your case.

Authenticity is something we pride ourselves on—a core principle of our firm, in fact—and it sets us apart from other trial lawyers. Other attorneys may also use some of the techniques discussed here, but doing so without establishing a rapport and personal connection with jurors tends to make those techniques ring hollow. Authenticity is key.

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

Placing a Dollar Amount on Human Life

If a person dies because of someone else’s negligence— a wrongful death—it’s the victim’s family that is left to suffer the grief and loss. So what is the remedy? Determining the value of a human life is no easy task, but it’s one that we, as wrongful death attorneys, often face. One thing is certain—people who have suffered the death of a loved one are looking for affirmation.

In the criminal justice system, when a wrong has been committed, a jury can punish the defendant with jail time. Civil cases are different. The only power the jury has to make things right is to allow money for damages. They can’t issue an advisory opinion or verdict that tells the defendant how to act in the future.

Calculating lost income

One relatively concrete category of damages in a wrongful death case is the loss of financial support and inheritance that the surviving spouse or family members would have received from the decedent’s wages or other income.  It’s possible to project, based expert economic and vocational testimony, how long the person would have been expected to work had they not died and the amount of wages that would have come from that work.  If the decedent would have had other income over their lifetime, testimony can also project what the surviving family members would have stood to inherit in the future.  A jury can allow these lost income amounts as part of the damages for the wrongful death.

Putting a dollar value on emotional loss

Although lost income can be important, we find that the emotional pain to spouses and family members from the untimely loss of their loved one is often the most significant harm suffered. Coming up with a dollar value to compensate for this emotional pain is a delicate process. Still, we have some methods to get the jury thinking of what a fair number might be.

We discuss topics that help remind them of what human life is all about. We talk about relationships—the simple pleasures we take from each other’s company. We talk about gatherings and holidays. We might even talk about the caring and guidance that adults give to younger people.

We remind juries of the emotional impact that somebody who’s lost a spouse, a child or parent must endure. It’s really important for jurors to understand and consider what makes life and relationships important, along with the emptiness felt in a person’s permanent absence. We remind juries of the countless interactions in a relationship that we often take for granted, until we ourselves have lost someone important to us.

Unfortunately, there is no formula or chart that can help a jury quantify this point, so determining a dollar value for life can be quite daunting. Our greatest charge is then to remind juries that while doing so is difficult, it’s also crucial. It is the responsibility of our justice system to ensure that when a wrong has been committed, especially one so egregious as to have cost a person their life, the community must try to compensate for that wrong.

Using examples for framework

To help jurors apply a value to something seemingly invaluable, we might point out items in the news that have sold for incredible sums of money. For example, the Honus Wagner baseball card that sold for 2.8 million dollars a few years ago or the abstract painting by artist Barnett Newman that sold for 43 million dollars. We remind jurors that these items are just ink on cardboard or flecks of paint on a canvas, and yet, they’re valued at millions of dollars. Why? Because they are rare—often masterpieces—and there may only be one in existence. It doesn’t take long for jurors to see the analogy and understand that people are rare and unique masterpieces as well.

Another way to show the value of human life is through the money spent on search parties for missing people. There was a recent news story about two military aircraft that crashed off the coast of Hawaii. Before calling off the search, the community spent millions of dollars and an incredible number of man hours looking for the missing soldiers lost at sea. This easily demonstrates the value we as a society place on life. Even when the hope of finding survivors is slim, we don’t hesitate to spend time and money to implement a rescue.

Conclusion

By giving jurors concrete examples, we can successfully help them understand how to place dollar amounts on things inherently difficult to value. In the end, the money juries allow is not a prize, but a reflection of justice. It shows the jury’s determination that somebody did something wrong, something that cost another person their life, and that the wrongdoer has been held responsible.

We like to focus on the human element, and do the best we can to make sure that our clients get what they need in order to recover and move on after the untimely death of a love one.

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

A Wrongful Death Illustrates the Importance of Caring for Our Independent Seniors

Societies have long wrestled with how to best care for senior citizens, but we are truly headed into uncharted territory as the Baby Boomer generation gets old. The largest generation in American history will also be the longest-lived—and they’re approaching their retirement years. For many, this may entail finding living arrangements that will provide varying degrees of assistance.

That’s the big picture, but of course it comprises millions upon millions of individual human lives. And when you filter those personal stories—such as the wrongful death case of Dorothy Kramer*—through that larger statistical prism, one thing becomes clear: We, as a society, are going to need to make some changes.

An inexplicable, avoidable loss

Dorothy Kramer enjoyed living independently. Her housing solution was similar to that chosen by many of today’s seniors: an independent living facility, where she lived alone in her own room, and could come and go as she pleased.

One of the advantages of this facility was its emergency services. In addition to a cord in her bathroom that she could pull in case of an emergency, Dorothy was given an alarm to wear around her neck or wrist. If she were in an emergency medical situation, Dorothy could push a button and emergency medical services (EMS) would respond.

One morning, around 5:00 a.m., Dorothy pressed her emergency medical button. About fifteen minutes later, EMS personnel responded—to the wrong address. Dorothy’s alarm had been programmed incorrectly to the address across the hallway. When EMS arrived, they found that the resident across the hall didn’t need help, they deemed the call a false alarm, and left without helping Dorothy (or even knowing someone still needed help).

Later that afternoon, one of Dorothy’s daughters received a call from the facility. Dorothy wasn’t answering her door and the staff couldn’t get into her locked room. Finally, the director was able to let them in. There, they found Dorothy, who had died sitting in her chair, clutching her alarm.

Pointing fingers

Obviously, this was a terrible situation which never should have happened. To make matters worse, nobody was willing to take responsibility for the egregious mistake.

Both the independent living facility and the alarm company blamed each other for the procedural failure that led to Dorothy’s wrongful death. As part of our ongoing investigation, we’re obtaining information from the independent living facility, the alarm company, and others in order to put together a complete picture of just where the breakdown occurred.

Aftermath of a wrongful death

As might be imagined, Dorothy’s loved ones—her two daughters and her grandchildren—were in shock. How could such a tragedy occur in spite of the supposed safety measures that were in place?

Dorothy’s death caused a lot of pain for her family. Especially for her daughters—Dorothy had always been their rock, their anchor. One daughter has even had to seek medical treatment to deal with the depression that resulted from her mother’s death.

We’re determined to obtain the justice Dorothy’s family deserves. Healing from such an inexcusable loss is never a simple matter, so we’re also dedicated to providing the emotional support they need to weather these difficult times. Whether they need to talk about what they’re going through, or what Dorothy meant to them—we’re here to listen. If they simply need advice, we do our best to provide that as well.

Lessons for an aging population

Besides being frustrating and tragic, we think cases like these should serve as a wake-up call for those of us who are blessed enough to still have one or both parents in our lives.

The reality is we haven’t yet had to face the challenges involved with accommodating such a large group of aging seniors. With all of our advances in medicine, nutrition, and preventative health care, people are staying healthy and independent much longer. Many senior citizens own their own home and want to stay there as long as possible.

As Ohio wrongful death attorneys, we’ve seen numerous cases involving elderly victims, whether it involved medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, or other forms of harm, like conning a senior citizen out of her home.

We need to look out for our elderly loved ones and be vigilant on their behalf. In today’s specialized world, we’ve been conditioned to defer to the “experts,” but it’s important to remember that, when it comes to your parents, you’re likely the most informed. Ask hard, smart questions to ensure the people you’re sharing caregiving duties with are doing their jobs correctly. This holds true whether your parents are living at home, in an independent living facility, or in an assisted living community.

There’s another perspective to this as well: In the future, we will have a responsibility to our children and loved ones to allow them to care for us in our senior years. This could entail everything from recognizing and accepting when we’d be better off moving to an assisted living facility, to willingly giving up the keys to our car because we can no longer drive safely.

In terms of the nearer future, plan ahead. Make sure you have a will. Establish a health care power of attorney. Communicate with your loved ones what kind of living arrangement you want in your later years. These can be tough discussions, but avoiding them now can lead to much worse circumstances down the road.

We’re all caregivers

Growing old is one of those paradoxes of the human condition. Most of us don’t want to grow old, yet at the same time we usually want to live as long as possible—provided we’re cared for.

Dorothy Kramer’s daughters thought their mom was being well cared for, only to have their trust senselessly betrayed. Our primary goal at this point is to secure justice for her family and help them find a way to start healing. We’ll keep you updated on how they’re doing.

In the meantime, this story should serve as a reminder to us all to be watchful. We all have loved ones who are getting older, and some of us are getting older ourselves. While paid caregivers provide an admirable and invaluable service, they’re not infallible. We should all consider ourselves caregivers, and be diligent in that role. It’s our loved ones’ well-being on the line, after all—is there really too much we can do for them?

*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.

Ohio Malpractice Attorneys Hold Hospital Accountable for Wrongful Death

A “DNR,” or do not resuscitate order, is an advance directive used by hospitals to signify a patient’s desire to pass away without lifesaving intervention in the event that their heart stops or they stop breathing. These are typically used by patients who suffer from a terminal illness or other serious medical condition. It is an important instrument that allows an individual to instruct doctors on precisely how to handle care at the end of his or her life.

Imagine if someone mistakenly assumed you had a DNR order. This is one such case. A 72-year old woman was allowed to pass away because the nurse on duty mistakenly thought she had a DNR order. When her family learned that she lost her life due to a clerical error, they were devastated. That’s when they decided to seek out experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, and gave us a call.

A terrible mistake results in a wrongful death

Columbus native Rita Martin* had moderate cardiovascular disease when she presented with heart attack symptoms at the ER of a large local hospital. Heart disease ran in Rita’s family, but her siblings had all lived to almost 90 with pacemakers. So her symptoms didn’t come as a total surprise to her family.

Initially, Rita responded well to treatment and was due to be released. While she was recovering in a step-down unit, a second heart attack struck. Tragically, the nurse on duty mistakenly believed Rita had a DNR order on file, and she allowed her to pass away without intervention.

Rita’s devastated family approached us for help with this wrongful death case. They wanted us to help hold the hospital accountable for the egregious mistake that cost them their beloved wife and mother.  As experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, we knew we had a clear-cut malpractice argument tied to the mistaken DNR order.

The case proved to be slightly more difficult than we thought, however, when the hospital went on the defensive. Though they did not deny the nurse’s mistake, they claimed that Rita’s heart attack was so massive, she wouldn’t have survived even if they had administered lifesaving treatment.

The value of expert opinions

We set out to find the best and most experienced cardiology experts to review the medical details and help us discredit the hospital’s defense. We can’t stress strongly enough the value these clinical experts brought to this case. Their findings indicated that hospital intervention likely would have saved Rita’s life.

Our careful argument strategy combined with the expert’s findings allowed us to achieve a favorable ruling and settlement that would help the Martins maintain a good quality of life in Rita’s absence.

It’s a good thing, too, because the Martins certainly could use the help: both Rita’s husband and one of her children had physical disabilities. In life, Rita played the role of a caretaker for her family. When she passed away, they really struggled to hold things together. They couldn’t afford the skilled nursing needed to replace the care Rita had provided. She was the glue that held the family together. We were determined to get the Martins the financial resources they needed to take care of themselves after Rita’s untimely death.

Working for a cause

It’s a frightening scenario: The caregivers you trust make an error so critical that it costs you your life. We wanted to do our part to help stop that from happening again to someone else.

For over a year we fought to make things right for the Martins, and during that time we became close with them. A key component of their mission in working with us was to ensure that no one else would fall victim to a similar mistake. Their hope was that the results of this case would force the hospital to improve its policies and procedures so as to protect everyone who walked through their doors.

A favorable court decision meant a lot to our team because we firmly believe that human beings have a right, especially after climbing the difficult hill into their 70s, to have their advance directives honored to the letter. In this wrongful death case, the nursing team allowed Rita’s life to end through negligence and carelessness.

As a result of our success with this case, the Martins were able to find meaning in Rita’s passing with the hope that her death had not been in vain—and would help improve hospital procedures and policies for future patients. The financial outcome made a concrete difference to this family as well.

We took on the case to honor Rita, and ultimately to help take care of her family when she couldn’t be there. It was a difficult case, but we’d take it on again in a heartbeat because it was the right thing to do.

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

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