When a person loses their life in an accident caused by the negligence or wrongful conduct of others, surviving family members can usually file a wrongful death claim in order to recover for their losses. In many cases, these claims can result in compensation well into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Over the years, a few wrongful death claims have caught the country’s attention and received significant media coverage. Five noteworthy cases are detailed below.
Exploding Ford Pintos
The Ford Pinto was an affordable subcompact car introduced in 1970 and designed in response to the increasing popularity of smaller Japanese imports in the 1960s. The Pinto’s design placed the fuel tank between the rear axle and rear bumper, where a rear-end collision could easily cause the tank to rupture. In many cases, this design flaw led to fires and explosions, often resulting in serious injury. These injuries prompted Ford to issue a massive recall. Ultimately, the issue became a public relations nightmare for Ford when it was revealed that executives had determined it was more cost-effective to settle wrongful death cases than to address the problem.
Vehicle design flaws can lead to wrongful death cases, as these flaws can often cause injury themselves or result in an injury-causing accident. For example, there has been a spate of wrongful death claims more recently arising from defective airbags manufactured by Takata and found in a variety of cars in the United States. The defect results in a dangerous situation in which the deployment of airbags can shoot metal shards at vehicle occupants. Evidence suggests that Takata has been aware of these risks for almost 10 years, potentially subjecting them to significant punitive damages.
The Nancy Grace Interview that may have Caused a Suicide
In 2006, Nancy Grace interviewed a mother whose two-year-old son had disappeared. According to reports, Grace’s staff told the woman that her phone interview on the show could help locate her son. In the interview, Grace, a former prosecutor, insinuated the woman was somehow involved in the child’s disappearance and that she had actually murdered her child and covered it up. Hours before the show aired, the woman shot herself in the closet of her grandparent’s home. Ultimately, Grace and the woman’s family settled the case. Under the terms of the settlement, Grace established a trust in the amount of $200,000 to help find the boy. The trust must be transferred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if he is not found by his 13th birthday.
Aaliyah’s Plane Crash
22-year old hip-hop and R&B singer Aaliyah and 8 others lost their lives in a 2001 plane crash in the Bahamas. Her parents filed wrongful death claims against a number of parties, including Virgin Records for making unsafe travel arrangements and the airway company operating the plane. Some of the allegations made in the lawsuits include the following:
- The pilot had alcohol and cocaine in his system;
- Virgin Records was negligent for hiring the airline, as it had been cited four times for violations in as many years;
- The aircraft was overloaded by 700 pounds and was carrying more passengers than it was designed to carry; and
- The pilot lacked the necessary training and credentials to fly the plane. The claims regarding the incident were settled for an undisclosed amount in 2003.
The Murder-Suicide of Phil and Brynn Hartman
The sudden death of comedian and actor Phil Hartman at the hands of his wife, Brynn, shocked the world in 1998. According to reports, Brynn entered the couple’s master bedroom suite and shot the comedian multiple times before shooting herself several hours later. Brynn had been taking the antidepressant Zoloft at the time of the incident, prompting her family to file a wrongful death claim against the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. The lawsuit alleged that Brynn’s use of Zoloft caused her to engage in violent behavior and take her and her husband’s life. The parties settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
This is not the first time that antidepressants have been the focus of wrongful death claims. Drugs like Paxil and Prozac have also been linked to violent and destructive behavior.
The O.J. Simpson Case
If you were alive and old enough to understand what was going on in the 1990s, there is little doubt that you remember the double-murder trial involving football star and actor O.J. Simpson. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. After a lengthy jury trial, Simpson was acquitted, despite many observers’ belief that he was guilty.
The families of both victims pursued a civil wrongful death claim against Simpson. The jury in the civil wrongful death case found Simpson liable for the deaths and awarded the families $33.5 million. This case is now often used to illustrate how the differing burdens of proof in civil and criminal cases can lead to vastly different outcomes. The takeaway for victims’ families is that you may still be able to hold a party liable for the death of a loved one even if the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to prove a criminal case.
Contact a California Wrongful Death Attorney Today to Learn More
Wrongful death cases can arise from a wide variety of accidents, including car accidents, bicycle accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and falls, and truck accidents. In addition, if you lose a loved one in a violent incident perpetrated by another person, you may be able to hold that person liable. At GJEL accident attorneys, we are dedicated to representing the legal rights of surviving family members. To schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, call our office today at 866-218-3776.