Wrongful Death

PG&E guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Camp Fire

campfireOn November 8, 2018, sparks from a failed Pacific Gas and Electric transmission line caused a fire that quickly grew and raged across Northern California, destroying the towns of Paradise, Magalia, and Concow and killing 85 people. Texas residents should know what PG&E has faced in the aftermath of this incident, which is now known as the Camp Fire.

PG&E, California’s largest utility, declared bankruptcy in 2018 as the families of the victims and those who lost their homes and businesses in the fire filed claims seeking billions of dollars in damages. On March 23, 2020, the company entered into a plea agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s office. It pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully starting a fire.

As a result, it will be paying out $4 million in fines: the maximum amount possible. As the Camp Fire destroyed a canal and has left residents without access to water, the company also agreed to fund efforts to restore this access. There is some question, though, why PG&E did not plead guilty to 85 counts of involuntary manslaughter, seeing how it was 85 people who died.

While the company did not intentionally start the wildfire, still, it was held liable because of negligence on its part. Those who lost a loved one in the fire have filed a lawsuit under wrongful death law, and those who are successful may be reimbursed for pre-death medical bills, if applicable; funeral and burial expenses; loss of support and consortium; and more.

Those who lost a loved one here in Texas, even if the circumstances were not so overwhelming as a wildfire, may do well to request legal assistance. A lawyer may help build up the case and negotiate for a settlement out of court.

Vanessa Bryant sues helicopter company

Many Texans were shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the other people who were with them on the helicopter that was transporting them to a youth basketball game. On the morning of a memorial service in Los Angeles for Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that owned the helicopter.

Negligence allegations in the wrongful death lawsuit

The civil complaint alleges several claims against Island Express, the company that employed the helicopter pilot and that owned the aircraft. The lawsuit alleges that the pilot had previously been disciplined in 2015 for violating the visual flight rules and that the company should not have allowed the flight because of the heavy fog conditions. The lawsuit also alleges that the pilot was traveling at 180 mph and that he failed to properly monitor the weather conditions or to abort the flight.

Allegations about the lack of safety

While the pilot had the proper certifications to use the helicopter’s navigation system, the company did not. This means that it might not have been legal for the helicopter to have been flown in the foggy weather. Vanessa Bryant also argues that the helicopter was unsafe because of the lack of certifications for Island Express. She is seeking unspecified damages from the company for her losses.

 

Kobe Bryant’s widow is likely very wealthy, meaning that she does not need to recover substantial monetary damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. However, by filing the lawsuit against the company, she might be able to hold Island Express accountable for its negligence and deter other companies from engaging in similar conduct. People who lose loved ones because of the negligent or wrongful conduct of other people or entities may want to talk to experienced wrongful death attorneys. The lawyers might analyze the facts, evidence, and circumstances of a case and provide people with an analysis of the merits of their potential legal claims. Through a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving family members might hold the negligent party liable to pay damages for their losses.

How wrongful death proceeds are divided in Texas

Wrongful death is when one party causes the demise of another due to carelessness, unlawful acts, neglect, or unskillfulness. The surviving family members of the deceased make a wrongful death claim. It may be anyone from the parents, children as well as the surviving spouse, according to the legal website Nolo.

The claimants may file the wrongful death claim together or singly. Despite this, it is within reason that they do not all receive an equal share of the compensation. So, who gets to decide what share each claiming party will receive?

In Texas, a jury is responsible for deciding what to award the claimants and the proportions of the award. They also determine if there is any need for compensation. However, some cases are not presided over by a jury since they do not get to trial. In such scenarios, your lawyers use the knowledge of past cases that juries have presided over to provide legal advice.

As noted on FindLaw, an online legal website, when all the claiming parties are adults, they may reasonably determine how to divide the settlement. But when there are minor children in the list of beneficiaries, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent their rights. The guardian ad litem ensures that the adults do not take advantage of the kids.

When children are involved in a wrongful death claim, the court recognizes that they may require help as no one else may protect their rights. Most of the time, the benefit will gear towards the children. However, it does not mean that the court influences the decision. Instead, they ensure that the process is fair for everyone.

Widower awarded over $157 million in tobacco case

Many people in Texas have lost loved ones due to cigarette smoking and its serious health effects. In a Florida case, a gay man was awarded over $157 million for a wrongful death case filed after his husband died from lung cancer linked to cigarette smoking. His lawyer said it was the first such case on record involving a same-sex couple. The man’s husband was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1996. He lived with the disorder for 22 years until he died from the effects of the disease in 2018.

The widower filed a wrongful death lawsuit against major tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, seeking damages. His husband had smoked cigarettes made by both companies since he was 15 years old. The widower claimed that these companies had specifically manipulated nicotine levels in their products in order to make them more addictive. He also said that in the late 1950s, when his husband first began to smoke, the companies deliberately targeted their marketing to adolescents and youth under 18.

The fact that the couple were in a same-sex marriage is relevant to the outcome because Florida law mandates that only a spouse can file a wrongful death claim if the couple were already married before the relevant illness or injury that led to death. The couple married in 2015, only days after same-sex marriage was legalized nationally by the Supreme Court. The judge and jury in the case agreed that the men, who had a 35-year relationship, would have married earlier but for the legal bar preventing them.

The loss of a loved one is always tragic, but that tragedy can be compounded if it was caused by someone else’s negligence or actions. A personal injury attorney may help grieving individuals file a wrongful death claim against those responsible.

Source: NBCNews.com, “Florida jury awards gay man $157 million from tobacco companies in death of spouse,” Janelle Griffith, Nov. 20, 2019

SunTrust Park beer cooler incident leads to wrongful death suit

Texas residents may be interested to learn that a fatal incident at SunTrust Park, home ballpark of the Atlanta Braves, has resulted in the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit. In June 2018, the man who invented a dispensing system that would reduce the average pour time for beer died while installing this system at SunTrust Park. Working overnight before a game day to install it, he was found in a concession stand beer cooler the following day.

He is survived by his wife and four children. The wife has filed the wrongful death suit against builders and the Atlanta Braves, alleging that her husband’s death could have been prevented. It turns out that the construction crew had received an email alerting them to issues with the stadium coolers’ door release mechanisms. The crew should have also known about any carbon dioxide leaks throughout the system.

Investigators found that the man died of asphyxiation from a carbon dioxide leak. He apparently did not try to open the door or use his cellphone. This may be because the carbon dioxide had disoriented him by that point.

Representatives for the Atlanta Braves have not commented on the matter. The widow is seeking all damages permissible under state law, including damages for loss of support, mental anguish, funeral expenses and the decedent’s pain and suffering.

A case under wrongful death law will likely face strong opposition since the other side will have a legal team fighting to deny wrongdoing. This is why those who wish to file a lawsuit may want to obtain legal representation. A personal injury attorney may help by bringing in investigators to gather proof against the defendant and by striving to negotiate for a settlement out of court. If a settlement cannot be achieved, the plaintiff may decide to take the case to court.