Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

calendarIn any personal injury or wrongful death case, the law only gives you a limited period of time in which to assert your rights and seek compensation. Wait too long and your opponent is entitled to seek (and obtain) a dismissal of your case. In any type of wrongful death case, then, it is important to act with all due speed. That includes retaining an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney to provide you with representation in your case.

While the law does limit the amount of time that you have to sue, and it is important to act within that timeframe, it is also important not to let your opponent “start the clock” in your case before it’s time. One recent case that offered useful information about the statute of limitations in wrongful death and survival actions was a tragic story from southeast Pennsylvania.

The specific facts of the case involved allegations of medical/nursing home neglect, but the resolution of the case matters for anyone who might need to bring a lawsuit asserting claims of wrongful death and survival related to medical professional negligence. In the case, Elise was admitted to the hospital in the summer of 2005 after a fall at home. Two weeks later, she was moved to a nursing home. Elise’s doctor ordered a flexor bed and frequent repositioning to deal with her bedsores.

doctorsMedical negligence cases can be complicated when multiple medical providers and numerous mistakes in providing care are involved. When such a scenario occurs, and death is the result, it may require bringing a wrongful death lawsuit that names multiple hospitals, multiple doctors, multiple physicians’ groups, multiple nurses, and others. These providers may be located in various cities (or even multiple states), adding an extra layer of possible complexity. A knowledgeable Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can help guide you through this potentially complicated process during this most stressful time.

One case in which that scenario took place was the death of 17-month-old Gianna. Gianna’s parents took her to an Allentown hospital in September 2015 when the child was suffering from coughing and vomiting. The doctors at the hospital diagnosed her with a respiratory infection and sent her home. The parents followed up at the pediatrician’s office, where a respiratory infection was again the diagnosis.

Two weeks later, though, the girl wasn’t getting better. The parent took her to the pediatrician and to the hospital. In both instances, the child was sent home without any more tests being performed. On Oct. 4, almost four weeks after the first hospital visit, another chest x-ray was performed, and the child was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Gianna was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Philadelphia.

doctorWhen someone dies due to the wrongful conduct or wrongful inaction of others, especially when those actors are medical care providers, the law potentially creates two different types of legal claims:  wrongful death and something called “survival.” The wrongful death action, as the name implies, compensates the plaintiff for the premature ending of the deceased person’s life. A survival claim focuses on the conscious pain and suffering the deceased endured in the hours and moments preceding their death. If you’ve lost a loved one due to the errors or omissions made by others, you may have a case for wrongful death, for survival, or for both causes of action. An experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can help you assess your case.

Any time you lose a loved one due to the mistakes or wrongful inaction of another party, it is excruciatingly painful. That pain is even worse if those responsible were medical care providers. The case surrounding the death of a hospital patient in suburban Philadelphia in 2008 was an example of that. In late November and early December 2008, Marvin was a patient in the ICU. Doctors ordered a feeding tube inserted into Marvin. The first attempt resulted in an improper insertion. The second attempt resulted in the same problem. The tube was inserted into the patient’s lung, rather than his stomach.

Another doctor made a third attempt in the late afternoon of the following day. A radiologist reviewed an x-ray and wrongfully read it as showing the tube ending in the man’s stomach, when it actually terminated in his left lung (again). For eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am, Marvin received 50 cc’s of nutrition and 420 cc’s of flush through that tube. As the patient got worse, another x-ray was ordered a little before 5 am. The results (showing the tube’s incorrect placement) were not reviewed until 8:13 that morning. Marvin, tragically, had been dead for more than an hour by that time.

quarryAny time an accident claims the life of a loved one, it is a tragic loss. When that loss happens because someone else acted improperly or wrongfully failed to act, the pain can be that much worse. In those situations, though, the law does allow your family to seek compensation and hold accountable those whose misconduct led to the tragedy. A knowledgeable Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can help you in these times. While you focus on your personal matters, your attorney can be there to take care of your legal matters and protect your rights.

An example of such a loss was the case of a worker named Wesley. The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader recently reported on Wesley’s death at a rock quarry in Susquehanna County and the settlement that came from it. One day in December 2011, the rock crusher that Wesley was operating became jammed. When Wesley climbed outside a protective railing and over the mouth of the crusher in an attempt to clear the jam, he fell into the machinery and was killed.

In a case like Wesley’s, the facts can seem daunting. Should the family sue the employer, the manufacturer of the crusher, or others for Wesley’s death? Did the fact that Wesley climbed outside the protective railing and over the mouth of the crusher mean the family could not prevail? All of these questions involve intricate analysis and decision-making with which a knowledgeable attorney can provide extensive help.

briefcase of moneyIt is an unfortunate fact of life that, sometimes, a sudden receipt of a large sum of money brings about people seeking a portion of those funds. Perhaps it is a lottery win, a sizable inheritance, or a money judgment in a civil trial. If you’ve lost a loved one due to the misconduct of others, there are many steps that go into obtaining a successful outcome that can benefit from the assistance of an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney. Making sure that the proceeds of a court judgment go to the proper people is just one of them.

An example of such a situation played out in the family of a Philadelphia-area woman named Shireeta. Shireeta’s seven-year-old daughter, Lamiyah, died in a house fire in December 2011. After Lamiyah’s death, the mother filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of a curling iron and a power strip that, she claimed, were faulty and caused the fire. Shireeta, who was also the administrator of Lamiyah’s estate, eventually settled with the defendants. The defendants made an $8 million payout as part of the settlement.

As is true of many children, Lamiyah didn’t have a will. The law has a certain set of rules, called the rules of intestate succession, which dictate how assets should be distributed in cases in which the deceased person has no will. Generally, in most situations, the rules require that a child’s assets go 50-50 to each of her parents. In this case, that would have meant that Shireeta and Lamiyah’s father, Lamont, would split the settlement money equally.

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.


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 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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