Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Fatal car accidents may be caused by a variety of factors and lead to either a sudden death accident or an eventual death fatal accident.  Throughout Pennsylvania, surviving family memberhighway accidents or dependents of the person who passed away may face medical bills, funeral expenses, and other accident-related costs. By pursuing a wrongful death claim against the person who caused the accident, they may recover compensation for their losses.

According to Pennsylvania law, when an individual is fatally injured due to a wrongful act, intentional conduct, or negligence, there may be a legal action to recover damages.  According to the statute, the “right of action,” or the ability to bring this claim, exists for the benefit of surviving spouses, children, or parents of the deceased.  The law specifically states that these individuals need not reside within the Commonwealth.  Additionally, if there is no person eligible to recover damages, the personal representative for the deceased can bring an action to recover damages.

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Determining what constitutes a “wrongful death” claim is important for surviving spouses and family members. Actions that cause or contribute to the death of an individual form the basis of a wrongful death claim. Some actions are attributabletruck accident to people, while in other circumstances, a company may be responsible for fatal injuries that take place when using their product.

Pennsylvania law sets forth the rule that a legal action to recover damages following the death of an individual can be brought when that death is caused by a wrongful act, negligence, or intentional conduct. The law also makes clear who can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased person and the types of damages available in a wrongful death claim.

When an accident has been caused by someone’s intentional or careless act, that person or company may be held responsible. This means that the law requires them to compensate surviving family members of the deceased person.

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In a recent case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed allegations of vicarious liability and corporate negligence against a hospital and its treating physicians. Procedurally, the administrator of the estate of Mr. Arthur Denmark appealed from a trial court dismissal of his claims against a hospital and its entities.  Mr. Hurst, the administrator, named four defendants in his complaint:  Dr. Hallur, Dr. Williams, and the Hospital entities. Mr. Hurst filed an amended complaint in response to preliminary objections.

He alleged that Arthur Denmark was admitted to the hospital in order to undergo a tracheotomy, due to his emphysema.  He was allegedly alert and responsive, until he was either allowed or tried to leave his bed without assistance, and he fell out of his bed.  This fall dislocated his catheter, and it could not be replaced.  Surgery was scheduled, during which Mr. Denmark’s bladder was severely lacerated. Allegedly, gauze was negligently left in Mr. Denmark’s body after the surgery was complete, and blood continued to be present in Mr. Denmark’s urine. According to Mr. Hurst, the negligence of the defendants resulted in Mr. Denmark’s development of septic shock and eventual death.

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The amended complaint set forth causes of action against the doctors for negligence and against the hospital for vicarious liability and corporate negligence.  Mr. Hurst also brought causes of action for wrongful death and survival damages against all of the defendants.

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Insurance policies provide coverage for certain, spelled-out risks. But coverage is not exhaustive, and it is important to read insurance policy exclusions carefully. A recent Pennsylvania appellate decision held that the motor vehicle exclusion in a homeowner insurance policy excluded coverage for fatalities suffered in accidents involving a motor vehicle owned by the insured. In Theresa Wolfe v. Robert Ross, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed a lower court’s verdict in favor of the insured, limiting coverage for a fatality as provided by the exclusion in the homeowner policy.

This case involved a fatality suffered by a 19-year-old who drank alcohol at a graduation party and then left the party on a dirt bike owned by the homeowner’s son. He lost control of the bike and was fatally injured in a collision with a fixed object. As the administratrix of his estate, his mother commenced a civil action for wrongful death and survival against the homeowner, the man who hosted the party at his residence. Her allegations were based on his negligence, as the homeowner, in providing alcohol to her underage son. Personal Injury Lawyer Scranton PA

The insurance company refused to defend the claim, based on the motor vehicle exclusion in the homeowner policy that precluded coverage for “bodily injury arising out of..use…of a motor vehicle owned by the insured.” Prior to trial, the parties agreed to a consent judgment against the homeowner for the sum of $200,000. In addition, the homeowner assigned the rights under his homeowner policy to the administratrix. She then proceeded to try and collect the judgment by garnishing the proceeds of the homeowner’s policy. The insurance company and administratrix stipulated to certain facts, eventually agreeing that the case was ripe for decision regarding coverage for claims.

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In all Pennsylvania personal injury suits, the allegedly at-fault party must owe a duty to the injured person.  If the defendant fails to uphold his or her duty under the law, and an injury results because of the failure, the injured person can receive compensation for the expenses incurred, which include lost wages and medical bills.  If the behavior that led to the accident was particularly egregious, there is the possibility that punitive damages may also be available.  Even if a claim is filed and a civil action started, investigations for personal injury actions are on-going, which may lead to the discovery of other avenues of legal relief or reveal additional damages the injured person may be entitled to receive. 

At-Fault

At-Fault Cases

In Gallo v. Conemaugh Health System, Inc. (2015 PA Super 85), a gentleman sought treatment for a toe that was blackened and odorous.  The patient had previously seen a doctor for the toe and was scheduled for an amputation, but he arrived at the emergency room to see if he could have it amputated earlier.  The original treating physician was not available, so another doctor assumed care and scheduled the amputation the next day.  A separate doctor performed the anesthesia consult and ultimately administered the anesthesia, but he failed to perform a physical examination, cardiac evaluation, pulmonary assessment, chest x-ray, or electrocardiogram test in his pre-surgical evaluation, despite the patient’s medical history of having cardiac and pulmonary medical conditions.  The man died either during surgery or immediately after the amputation from a heart attack. 

The administratrix of the patient’s estate filed a wrongful death and survival action against the hospital, the physician’s group, and the individual doctors involved in the man’s surgery.  The administratrix alleged that the anesthesiologist, who had previously obtained eight DUIs from several states and lost his medical license in another state, was impaired by alcohol.  During the initial phases of litigation, the administratrix filed a Motion to Compel specific responses to questions regarding his alcohol treatment.  The trial judge allowed the request to compel, reasoning that the doctor had waived his privilege by denying the allegations of impairment as a result of alcohol use.  The doctor appealed, countering that he was not required to disclose that information under federal and Pennsylvania law.

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In Pennsylvania, when parties enter into an agreement with one another, part of that agreement may include a requirement to arbitrate a claim in lieu of filing a lawsuit through the Commonwealth’s court system.  Arbitration operates similarly to the judicial system, with an arbitrator deciding the case rather than an elected judge or jury.  Agreements that require submission of claims to an arbitrator are governed by the Pennsylvania Uniform Arbitration Act.  If an agreement defers to arbitration rather than the civil justice system, the damages that can be recovered by an injured party can potentially be smaller than what they would have been if a civil action was filed.

Wrongful Death Lawyers

Wrongful Death Lawyers

The Superior Court recently considered an appeal by a healthcare entity that objected to the trial court’s refusal to send a set of wrongful death and survival claims to arbitration.  The civil suit originated from the injuries and ultimate death of a woman who lived in special housing that included non-acute medical care.  The woman, while living at this residence, needed hospitalization after becoming unresponsive. Seven months later, she broke her hip and needed surgery at a different medical center.  While the woman was hospitalized, a skin tear and redness were noticed on her tail bone, but no pressure ulcer.

The woman was then moved to a different nursing facility under the same company that owned her original residence.  At this point, three pressure ulcers , or bed sores, were noticed, and in a week the woman gained 15 pounds from the added fluid and began experiencing cardiac issues.  The pressure ulcer began to increase in size and was filled with infected fluid that needed to be drained.  By the next month, the wound was extremely infected, and the woman had pitting edema in her legs.  The woman was transferred twice after that to be treated for the wound, but she eventually died in hospice care. 

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While asbestos is no longer used as popular insulating material, its presence in Pennsylvania and across America is still felt.  A once-popular mineral used for its sound absorption, strength, and resistance to fire, it is now synonymous with serious and fatal illnesses, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.  The fibrous make-up of the substance makes it impossible to escape the lungs once it is inhaled, and it can take decades to reveal itself.  119041_7784Since it is a highly dangerous material, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry lists the regulations in place for asbestos removal.

Litigation for claims and damages have stretched over several decades as new cases of cancer and illness fall upon the exposed individuals.  As a result, special funds have been created and specific litigation procedures made in an attempt to compensate those who have suffered injury or death as a result of asbestos exposure.  The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently published Krauss v. Trane US Inc., regarding some of these asbestos-specific legal procedures.

The deceased bricklayer worked at many job sites throughout the Southeast United States.  His estate claimed that he was exposed to asbestos at many job sites by interacting with several products that contained asbestos.  The estate attributed the mesothelioma to the asbestos that landed on his clothes and hair and that was eventually breathed into his lungs.  Several of these companies were made a party to the suit.  Motions for summary judgment were made by all the defendant companies, which were granted by the lower court.  Continue reading