• By: Hank Stout
  • Published: November 2016

examples of wrongful death cases

Wrongful death cases arise after an individual dies as a result of another party’s negligence or violent act. Surviving family members can seek compensation for various losses, which can often rise into the millions of dollars.

Since wrongful death laws were enacted, there have been several claims that have made headlines, including the following five notable examples of wrongful death cases.

1. Case against O.J. Simpson

Many Americans spent much of 1994-95 glued to their televisions watching the double-murder trial of former professional football player and actor O.J. Simpson. After more than a year following the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, Simpson was found not guilty by the jury in the criminal trial.

However, despite the not guilty verdict, the families of both victims filed a wrongful death claim against Simpson in civil court. At trial, a jury found that Simpson was responsible for deaths and awarded the families $33.5 million.

This case has become a landmark to demonstrate how the lower burden of proof in civil court can result in winning a wrongful death case even after an acquittal in criminal court. Even if a prosecutor does not have enough evidence to convict someone of homicide, there may be enough evidence to sufficiently prove liability for wrongful death.

2. Wrongful Death of Phil and Brynn Hartman

In 1998, Brynn Hartman shot her husband, beloved comedian Phil Hartman, and then herself. Brynn had been taking the anti-depressant Zoloft at the time of the murder-suicide. Her family then filed a wrongful death claim against Zoloft’s manufacturer, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, alleging that the drug caused Brynn to go insane and its effects led her to commit the shootings.

Other wrongful death cases had been filed regarding antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac causing homicides and suicides. The Hartman case was confidentially settled.

Wrongful death cases are common against large pharmaceuticals companies for producing and marketing unsafe drugs or for not fully disclosing all of the potentially dangerous side effects of a particular drug.

3. Wrongful Death of Aaliyah

In 2001, the entertainment industry was shocked when 22 year-old R&B singer and actress Aaliyah died in a plane crash along with eight other individuals following a music video shoot. Her parents filed wrongful death claims against several parties, including both the airway company and against Virgin Records for making unsafe transportation arrangements. The lawsuit alleged the following:

  • Virgin Records hired the airway company even though it had been cited four times within four years;
  • The pilot was both unqualified and inexperienced, the crash occurred on the pilot’s first day with the company, and the pilot was not registered with or approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly the plane;
  • Traces of cocaine and alcohol were found in the pilot’s system and he had prior criminal charges related to cocaine;
  • The aircraft was 700 pounds overloaded and was carrying one more passenger than it was supposed to carry. Reports indicate that even the pilot commented that the plane was overloaded.

The case involving Aaliyah’s wrongful death reached a confidential settlement in 2003.

4. Case against Nancy Grace

In 2006, a 21 year-old mother whose two year-old son had gone missing was interviewed for CNN by Nancy Grace. While the mother had not been a suspect regarding the disappearance, Grace–a former prosecutor–interrogated her about the child, insinuating that the mother knew where he was and even that she may have killed him. Right before the show aired, the mother committed suicide.

Her family sued Grace, claiming her intentional infliction of emotional distress on the young mother led to the death. Eventually, the parties settled for $200,000, which would be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if the boy was not found by the age of 13 (he has still not been located).

5. Deaths Involving Ford Pintos

Due to its affordability, the Ford Pinto was an extremely popular motor vehicle in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the Pinto was designed with the gas tank facing the back of the car. This meant that even the slightest rear-end collision could hit the gas tank and cause it to rupture, which often resulted in a serious explosion.

While Ford ultimately recalled all Pintos due to the dangerous design, this recall did not occur until after many people lost their lives in explosions and fires. Ford gained a bad reputation for considering money before safety when one executive valued a human life at $200,000 during a cost/benefit analysis examining whether to modify the design of the Pinto.

Many wrongful death cases occur because of defective auto parts that can malfunction and either cause collisions or cause injury in the event of a collision. The most recent auto-related wrongful death cases have stemmed from defective airbags manufactured by Japanese company Takata and installed in several different makes and models of cars.

These airbags can explode and send metal fragments flying at motorists, which have caused 11 deaths. Takata has already faced several wrongful death suits that allege the company knew of the possible defect nearly a decade before the recall was issued, thereby disregarding the safety of motorists.

Consult with our Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

While not every case will make headlines like the above wrongful death claims did, each case is extremely important to the surviving family members involved. The tragic and unexpected loss of a loved one can change the course of a family’s life and can result in severe emotional pain and suffering in addition to substantial financial losses.

At the law firm of Sutliff & Stout, our Houston wrongful death attorneys take every wrongful death case extremely seriously and dedicate all the resources necessary to help you recover for your loss. Please call for a free consultation today.

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