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Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Under California law, wrongful death claims are usually brought against a person or entity that causes, either by their negligence or other wrongful act, the death of another human being. Code Civ. Proc. §377.60. California statutes define those people who are actually legally permitted to bring wrongful death claims and it can include the deceased’s surviving spouse, surviving children, or other persons entitled to inherit from the deceased’s estate. §377.60(a). There are some other limited situations where others can bring a wrongful death claim, and a wrongful death attorney experienced in these tragic and serious cases can identify those situations.

There are two main components under the law in a cause of action for wrongful death: (1) compensation for the survivors’ financial losses, and (2) emotional losses of the surviving family members. Thus, suits can be brought for lost earnings/income, funeral expenses, loss of financial support, loss of expected benefits and/or for the reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided to the surviving family members had he or she survived. Additionally, the law provides that the emotional loss of that individual is another proper component of legal recovery — for the loss of that deceased person’s love, comfort, society, and companionship.

Proving negligence or intent in a wrongful death claim can be difficult. However, an experienced wrongful death attorney can evaluate a plaintiff’s case and ensure that the proper compensation is awarded.

Wrongful Death – Medical Malpractice Case Study( click for details )( click to close )

Due to overly severe and incredibly unfair legal restrictions which California put into place in 1975 for medical malpractice cases, litigation which is based on the negligence of a doctor, nurse or other provider of healthcare is extremely difficult for a patient (or a patient’s surviving family) to win. They are very complex, expensive and high-risk cases to prosecute given the malpractice laws (known collectively as “MICRA”) which were passed by the State Legislature, signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown (under intense pressure by the medical lobby and malpractice insurance industry) and – most punishing of all – not changed one iota since 1975.

Holly’s case is just one example of the unfair advantage that the medical industry has over the patients it treats, and how unlevel the playing field is.

A few years ago Holly’s husband,Stanley, was involved in a fairly minor motorcycle accident when a dog ran out in front of him and Stanley tried to avoid hitting it. Stanley was taken to a Stanislaus County hospital for treatment of some broken ribs. He was supposed to be out of the hospital within a few days. Yet, due to the neglect and cavalier treatment by his doctor, Stanley died – five days later.

Due to inadequate monitoring and a complete lack of proper evaluation by his doctor while Stanley was in the hospital, the physician failed to recognize that Stanley had developed a fairly common condition known as an “ileus” – his gastrointestinal tract had essentially shut down. As a result, Stanley’s abdomen swelled from the fluid accumulating, causing his entire abdominal area to become distended.

The doctor – whose insurance company refused to settle the case even though the doctor agreed on the date that trial was scheduled to begin that the case should be settled – testified that he physically examined Stanley every day his patient was in the hospital; he testified that every day he pressed on and felt Stanley’s entire abdominal area and there were no signs to suggest any problem.

However, Holly refuted this claim of the doctor’s; as she testified convincingly: “He must be confused about a different patient. He never touched my Stanley.”

Finally, on the night of Stanley’s death, he vomited enormous amounts of fluid and ended up choking on his vomitus. As was testified to at trial by highly qualified expert witnesses brought in on Holly’s behalf, a simple nasogastric tube inserted to relieve the internal pressure would have cured the problem – and saved Stanley’s life.

The jury awarded approximately $7.5 million – $1.5 million for lost earnings and benefits through Stanley’s employment at a local community college, and $6 million for “noneconomic damages”: the emotional and human loss of a loved one’s companionship, comfort, society and emotional support. The jury verdict was unanimous in Holly’s favor.

However, the effects of MICRA were (and still are) such that the $6 million jury award had to be chopped by the trial judge to $250,000 – the limit, or “cap,” required as a maximum amount for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases by MICRA.

Holly – a 36-year-old widow at the time that Stanley, her husband of 15 months, died – had the courage and determination to allow Tabak Law Firm to challenge this antiquated law.

After an appeal was taken to the State district court, this appellate court refused to address the imposition of the harsh effects of MICRA. The next level of challenge was to try to get the California Supreme Court to hear the challenge but, although 4 of the judges on the Court have to vote to hear such an appeal, only two votes were obtained. The case was over, but not without an exhaustive challenge to a set of laws that favor insurance companies over consumer-victims, and physicians over patients.

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