Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Due to a law enacted in the 1980s, Maryland plaintiffs are limited in the amount they are able to recover from municipalities across the state. According to an article by the Washington Post, this has led one woman to challenge the law that kept her from retaining the $11+ million award she received after a Prince George’s County police officer killed her husband while he was having a beer outside in Langley Park.

The Facts of the Case

Evidently, the officer was off duty at the time and approached the woman’s husband because he was drinking in public. However, for some reason the confrontation escalated, and eventually the officer shot the man, killing him. The officer claimed that he was acting in self-defense, since the man was reaching for his gun. However, witnesses told a different story, explaining that the man never fought back and that the officer was the aggressor.

At Trial the Plaintiff Wins

At trial, the jury heard all the evidence and determined that the officer—as well as the County—was responsible for the wrongful death of the woman’s husband and returned a verdict in her favor for over $11 million.

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Earlier this week in Cleveland, Ohio, the family of a 12-year-old boy who was killed by police filed a lawsuit against the Department and the City, claiming that the officers’ negligent actions led to the death of their loved one. According to a report by one local news source, the incident occurred on the evening of November 22, when police responded to a report of a person with a gun on a playground.

Evidently, the responding officers pulled up right next to the child rather than parking farther away and approaching from a distance. A video from a nearby surveillance camera shows one of the officers shoot the boy within two seconds of exiting the car. According to the officers, they were responding to what they thought was the boy brandishing a firearm. In reality, it was an Airsoft gun that shoots non-lethal plastic pellets. The video shows that he wasn’t reaching for the gun.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers waited four minutes to call in for emergency responders after they shot the young boy. He was eventually taken to the hospital. However, he sadly died the next day.

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If you recall, last year a Maryland man was killed when he was accosted by three police officers for sneaking into a movie for which he didn’t have a ticket. The 26-year-old man had Down Syndrome and had walked back into the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” after seeing it once to watch it again. He did not have a ticket for the second showing.

Three Frederick County deputies were moonlighting as security guards for that particular theater, and they approached the man. The situation escalated, and the deputies eventually placed the man in handcuffs and dragged him out of the theater. At some point in the fray, the three deputies crushed the man’s larynx, which caused him to have difficulty breathing.

The deputies released the man and called emergency personnel, but it was too late. He had asphyxiated in the meantime.

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Back in 2011, a massive tornado swept through Missouri, ripping apart most buildings and homes in its way. One building that was destroyed was a Home Depot home-improvement store. Tragically, dozens of people were trapped inside as the 100,000-pound walls to the store fell. Eight died. In fact, all but 10 of the 73 walls fell inward as the roof was ripped off the store.

Employees told customers to head towards the store’s training room, where they should remain safe. However, as one woman’s husband and two children made their way to the training room, the walls of the store fell on them, crushing them instantly.

The Missouri woman who lost her family in the storm accident recently filed a claim against Home Depot, the store’s designer, and the property owner, a Maryland-based company. The suit alleges that the building was not up to par back when it was built in 2001 and that, had it been constructed properly, the walls would have fallen to the outside rather than fall in on unsuspecting customers.

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In a recent report from the Associated Press, the attorney in charge of compensating the victims of the recent rash of crashes due to the GM recalls announced that there will be no limit to the amount of money GM will shell out to victims and their families. Currently, thirteen deaths have been linked to various accidents due to recalls in GM automobiles over the course of the last year. This figure, however, may be artificially low, as it relies on GM’s own admissions. It is expected that hundreds of other lawsuits will be filed once the specifics of the fund are established.

The recalls affected a number of General Motor vehicles, but were primarily centered around the Saturn Ion and the Chevrolet Cobalt. Each of these vehicles had ignition switch problems that had the potential to leave drivers with no way to control the vehicle.

The attorney in charge of compensation—who is paid by GM, but is not technically an employee of the company—says that the most recent recalls will not be eligible for the limitless compensation fund, as the company sees the most recent recalls as a separate issue. Additionally, only those lawsuits alleging problems with a vehicle’s ignition switch will be eligible for the recovery fund.

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Last October, Secret Service agents and Capitol Police officers shot and killed a woman who failed to stop her black Infinity at a security checkpoint and led them on a chase throughout the nation’s capitol. According to an article by the National Journal, the officers and agents will not be prosecuted by the Justice Department. However, the civil charges alleging the wrongful death of the victim still remain.

According to police documents, the woman failed to stop at a security checkpoint, knocking over a bicycle rack with her car, which knocked down a police officer. From there, she sped away towards Capitol Hill. She drove her car over a curb near the Reflecting Pool, where she was surrounded by officers. She then put the car in reverse and hit one officer. It was at this point that the officers shot the woman. She was shot five times from two different directions. Her 14-month-old child was in the back seat the whole time. The child was not injured, thankfully.

The Justice Department stood by the officers’ decision to use deadly force, explaining that situation fit within the parameters for the permissible use of deadly force. The family of the woman, however, still has a pending wrongful death action against the officers and the police force for using excessive and unnecessary force.

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Earlier this year, a man with Down Syndrome was killed when three police officers moonlighting as mall security officers tried to detain the man for repeatedly viewing the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” without a ticket. According to a report by the Washington Post, the officers tried to forcibly remove the man and in the process fractured his larynx, causing him to suffocate. The medical examiner listed the death as a homicide, but the district attorney decided not to press criminal charges.

Evidently, the man’s family has filed suit against the State of Maryland, claiming that the treatment of their loved one was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The mall operator as well as the cinema are also named in the suit.

Maryland’s Response

The State of Maryland is asking the federal court hearing the case to dismiss the suit, arguing that the man was targeted by the police officers not because of his disability but because he was breaking the law.

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The Brooklyn, New York-based company, Tough Mudder, is facing a law suit filed by a Maryland woman who lost her son after he drowned in a Tough Mudder competition. Tough Mudder is an 11-mile race with obstacles throughout the entire course. The obstacles tend to be extreme in nature, and often involve climbing, swimming, balancing, and sprinting.

According to a report by CBS Baltimore, the man died during the 2013 Tough Mudder event in West Virginia. Specifically, he died on the “Walk the Plank” obstacle, which involved climbing up a wall and then jumping off a platform 15 feet into the water. Evidently, the man jumped off the platform, and another woman jumped right after him, landing on top of him and preventing him from surfacing.

According to the lawsuit, Tough Mudder was experiencing a particularly large crowd that day and took shortcuts on safety. For example, the plaintiff claims that there was only one volunteer stationed at the obstacle and that the volunteer had his or her back turned when they were telling racers to jump. Thus, the volunteer could have no idea if the path was clear for the next racer.

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Earlier this year in April, the family of one of the Navy Yard Shooting victims filed suit in a Florida state court for the wrongful death of their loved one. According to a report by the Washington Post, the lawsuit names the United States government and two government contractors as defendants.

A similar suit was filed last year, but was dismissed for procedural reasons. This time around, the victim’s family added the two government contractors as defendants. The victim’s family is claiming that the government contractors who employed the shooter failed to adequately check his background and didn’t pay attention to the several signs of mental instability.

The suit also relies on the federal government’s own investigation into the shooting, claiming that the government was negligent in failing to secure the Navy Yard and also that the government failed to respond to the signs of mental health issues that the shooter exhibited in the time leading up to the tragic event.

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Caps on noneconomic damages, enacted in many states under the banner of “tort reform,” have brought uncertain results. While the stated purpose is to prevent litigation from driving up the cost of medical care, damage caps often lead in practice to injustice for victims of medical malpractice. A family in Florida challenged that state’s damage cap statute in federal court on constitutional grounds, after a court cut their judgment in half. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found no violation of the U.S. Constitution, but it asked the Florida Supreme Court to rule on the state constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. After nearly two years of review, the Florida court ruled that the state’s damage cap violates equal protection, finding that it “bears no rational relationship” to the goal of alleviating a “medical malpractice insurance crisis.”

More than half of all U.S. states, including Maryland, have laws capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases. “Noneconomic damages” refer to intangible injuries like pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and disfigurement. Under Maryland law, the amount of the cap in medical malpractice cases increases by $15,000 every January 1. In 2014, the amount is $740,000, or $925,000 in wrongful death cases with two or more beneficiaries. Florida’s cap, which does not increase year-to-year, is $500,000 for medical injuries and $1 million for wrongful death.

The lawsuit challenging the Florida statute involves a woman who died due to complications after giving birth via caesarean section in February 2006. The birth was performed by U.S. Air Force medical personnel at a private hospital. Her parents, individually and on behalf of her estate and her infant son, sued the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. A district judge ruled for the plaintiffs after a bench trial, awarding them over $980,000 in economic damages and $2 million in noneconomic damages. The noneconomic damage award was reduced to $1 million because of the damage cap.

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