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Wrongful Death Cases

Burlington Girl Drowns While Lifeguard Is on Duty, Family Sues for Wrongful Death

The body of the 14 year old decedent was found in June of 1999, at the bottom of the pool at the defendant’s apartment complex in Edgewater Park, New Jersey. Neither the other swimmers nor the defendant lifeguard of Oaklyn, New Jersey saw the girl drown. A wrongful death suit named the owner of the apartment complex, the lifeguard, and the company that employed him, as defendants.

The Burlington County jury found the lifeguard and his employer liable and awarded $455,000 to the estate, ($433,000 for wrongful death, $3,000 for medical costs and $19,000 for funeral costs). Liability was apportioned at 65% for the lifeguard’s employer, 30% for the lifeguard, 5% for the decedent and 0% for the apartment complex. After reducing the award to reflect the decendent’s comparative negligence, the net award is $432,250.

The trial judge in the Burlington County Superior Court granted a defense motion to bar expert testimony from two pathologists whom plaintiffs’ attorneys intended to call to testify about the girl’s suffering in her final moments, holding that such testimony would be speculative because no one witnessed the death.  A separate survival action was not put to the jury.

Motorcyclist Killed by Trailer – Family Sues for Wrongful Death

In June of 2004, decedent, a machinist for the Star Ledger, was riding his motorcycle on Route 528 in Plumstead with a group of New Jersey Leathernecks to raise money for the family of a soldier killed in Iraq. An eastbound pick-up truck with a 15-foot trailer jackknifed, causing the trailer to roll onto decedent, killing him instantly.

Decedent’s estate sued the driver for negligence and wrongful death.  The estate sought an award for future lost earnings of $1.2 million and an unspecified amount for wrongfuldeath damages. At the time of the accident, decedent made $70,000 annually.

Defense counsel did not dispute liability or damages. The suit was commenced in Ocean County Superior Court, but settled prior to an answer being filed. The total value of the settlement was $1,189,019. Of the total, the defendant driver’s carrier (Farm Family Casualty) covered $289,019, and the insurance carrier for the trailer that defendant was pulling paid the additional $900,000.

Pedestrian Killed When Driver Has a Seizure and Loses Control of Vehicle

In August, 2000, decedent, a 51-year-old insurance agent from Florida, was walking on a Hoboken, New Jersey sidewalk when a car driven by defendant jumped the curb and struck him. The impact flung Plaintiff into the air, and he landed about 30 feet away.  He sustained injuries to his head, spine, chest and abdomen and died on the spot.

His estate claimed wrongful death for his daughter’s loss of services, support and guidance.  Defendant claimed that he lost control of the car because he had a seizure and that he did not remember the accident.  But the estate put forth evidence that the defendant had a history of cerebral abscesses and three prior seizures and that it was negligence for him to drive while unfit.

The case was awaiting court arbitration in the Superior Court of Hudson County when the parties agreed to private mediation. The parties then settled for $700,000. Part of the settlement with insurer Liberty Mutual was structured, and part was used to purchase an annuity that would pay out $894,000 by the year 2038.

No Award for Husband’s Wrongful Death Claim for Wife Killed in Motor Vehicle Accident

In 2000, the plaintiff’s decedent, a homemaker in her 30s, was a passenger in a Mazda MPV in Roxbury, New Jersey, when the driver lost control of the car and it hit a tree, killing the decedent instantly.

Plaintiff’s husband sued the driver for wrongful death and vehicular negligence He also sued the auto dealer/mechanic for design defect, negligent maintenance and wrongfuldeath. The driver settled before trial and the case proceeded between the Estate of Plaintiff and the dealer/mechanic.  The driver of the vehicle had just purchased it the day before the accident.  She claimed that the brakes and tires were defective, causing the accident. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the brake rotors had not been replaced or inspected by the defendant, and the tires were only minimally inspected.  The dealer/mechanic countered that the vehicle was not defective and that wet street conditions along with the driver’s negligence were the cause of the accident.

The case went to trial in Morris County Superior Court, and at the conclusion of all evidence the jury found for the defense on liability and gave no award.

Speeding Truck Kills Passaic County Father of Three

Decedent, 41, was driving home from work traveling north on Skyline Drive in Ringwood, New Jersey.  A truck owned by defendant was traveling south on Skyline Drive when the driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle. The truck went out of control, flipped onto its side and hit decedent’s car. The truck was carrying a full load of stones, which proceeded to spill onto Decedent’s car. Decedent died upon impact.

The plaintiffs alleged that the driver of the truck was operating the vehicle too fast for the conditions and thus lost control of the vehicle and that the trucking company that employed the driver was responsible because the driver was on the job at the time of the crash.

The parties settled the case for $757,000 prior to trial in the Passaic County Superior Court. The defense did not admit fault or dispute liability. The settlement was structured and provided for guaranteed payments to decedent’s three children upon their reaching the age of majority. Decedent’s widow received $230,000 cash.

Note: If the case had gone to trial, the plaintiffs could have received damages for wrongful death, but not emotional distress or pain and suffering. Under New Jersey law, Decedent’s widow and children were unable to recover for emotion distress damages unless they witnessed the accident.

College Fails to Supervise Party That Ends With Fatal Fall From Dorm

Over the summer in 2005, a college student at Fairleigh Dickinson University threw a party in his dorm room.  Later that evening, he fell to his death from the fourth floor window.  He is survived by his parents, who brought suit for his wrongful death in Morris County Superior Court.

His parents alleged that the University was at fault for failing to supervise the party by periodically checking it, as required by campus policy, and that the failure to do so constituted negligence.  The defendants denied liability, instead arguing that it was the decedent’s own fault and pointing out that his blood alcohol limit was more than twice the legal limit at the time of his death.  The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, but found the decedent 50% responsible for his death and reduced the award to the estate accordingly.  The estate received a total of $294,000.

Crown Victoria Not Defective, Ford Not Responsible For Trooper’s Death, Jury Says

In October 1997, a New Jersey state trooper engaged in a vehicular chase with a burglary suspect.  The trooper was driving a Ford Crown Victoria sedan, the preferred police vehicle in the United States.  The suspect caused his vehicle to ram into the front of the trooper’s police car, and as a result, the doors became jammed and would not open.  The officer engaged in a gunfight with the suspect, but his gun jammed.  The suspect fired upon the trapped officer, killing him.  The suspect was later killed when the murder weapon accidentally discharged, shooting him in the head.

The trooper’s estate filed a wrongful death suit against Ford in Warren County Superior Court, claiming that the Crown Victoria was defectively designed and that Ford was aware of the potential for the doors to jam.  Defendant Ford denied liability, claiming that this type of collision was very unusual and not foreseeable.  They produced evidence at trial showing that although this vehicle is used in the great majority of police forces in America, there were no other reports or claims of the doors jamming, and further, that since there were no witnesses to the tragic event, the facts surrounding the trooper’s death could not be conclusively determined.

Bars on Windows at Apartment Complex Trap Man In Blaze, Jury Awards For Wrongful Death

In the winter of 2000, a man was visiting a friend at an apartment complex in Camden, New Jersey and decided to spend the night.  Late that night a fire broke out and although the tenant was able to escape, the visiting friend was trapped in the bedroom due to metal security bars on the window.  He was killed by the blaze.

The man’s estate filed suit in Camden County Superior Court, alleging that the property management company and property owner were responsible for the wrongful death of the decedent by virtue of allowing the bars to remain on the bedroom window.  They claimed that these bars violated several codes, and that the decedent’s body was found under the window, indicating that he awoke and attempted to escape.

The defendants denied that they were liable for the death.  They claimed that the building codes in question didn’t apply due to the age of the building, and that the window at issue was not an “escape window” and hence was not contemplated in the code.  They further produced evidence at trial that the decedent was intoxicated and never awoke up.

The case went to trial in 2002, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff’s, awarding $540,000, but reducing the award by 15%, as they found the decedent partially liable due to his intoxication.  The final award was $459,000.

Father of Four Killed on Side of Road, Defendants Won’t Settle, Force Trial

In the spring of 2001, a casino worker was walking on the side of Route 9 when defendant hit him with her car, killing him.  He left behind a new wife and four daughters.

His family filed suit for wrongful death against the driver and her husband, who owned the car.  They sought damages for wrongful death and for the loss of services for the daughters and the wife.  The defendant’s insurer, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, admitted that the driver was liable for the accident, but the parties could not agree on the appropriate damages award, so the case proceeded to trial in Atlantic County Superior Court.

The jury found in favor of the decedent’s family, and awarded them $1,000,000.

Gallbladder Surgery Goes Wrong, Surgeon Responsible For Death

In July of 1996, decedent underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder.  This is a relatively simple operation that is done laproscopically.  However in this instance the result was tragic.  The surgeon incorrectly severed a bile duct, which led to fatal complications.  Decedent underwent further surgeries in an attempt to remedy the damage, but to no avail.  He died 5 days later.

His widow filed suit against the doctor in Monmouth County Superior Court, claiming that he committed malpractice.  She sought to recover for his lost future wages as well as the pain and suffering he endured for the five days prior to his death.

The defendant denied liability, and claimed that the decedent had an anatomical anomaly that caused the error.  Plaintiff’s countered at trial, arguing that in the event that the surgeon was unsure of the gall bladder location or alignment, that he should have performed the traditional surgery where a larger incision is made.  The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded over $1,000,000 to the widow of the decedent.

Auto Crash Wrongful Death Case Settles For Policy Limits

In January, 2006, in Montgomery Township, Somerset County, deceased plaintiff Michael A. Gelatko was driving his 1995 Acura Integra northbound when his vehicle was struck from the rear by a tow truck driven by defendant Keith Meredith in the course of his employment for defendant An-Do Autobody and Towing.  Allegedly, Gelatko’s vehicle was at a complete stop when Meredith’s truck collided into it. The force of the collision caused Meredith to veer over to the southbound lane and collide with another vehicle, a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer driven by David R. Schieni. Gelatko died as a result of the accident on Aug. 12, 2006.

Claiming injury, Gelatko’s estate, represented by his sister Kathie Altemose, sued An-Do Auto Body and Meredith for negligent operation of a motor vehicle and wrongful deathdamages.Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that Meredith was following too closely behind Gelatko, and was liable for the accident.

The defendant An-Do Auto Body had an insurance policy with Lincoln General Insurance Co., with policy limits of $1 million, and acknowledged that the plaintiff’s injuries were in excess of that amount.  Gelatko was survived by his sister and his father, Emil Gelatko. Plaintiffs’ counsel sought damages for wrongful death and lost income, arguing that Michael Gelatko endured great physical and mental suffering in the last eight months of his life, and incurred significant medical bills. Counsel also sought funeral expenses. The insurance carrier paid the entire policy limits in connection with a settlement of the case.

Man Shot and Killed After Police Chase

Decedent, 31, was involved in a 1999 incident in Parsippany, N.J., in which he allegedly evaded police in his Chevrolet Camaro, leading to a chase involving state troopers and officers from three towns. When Decedent was eventually stopped and surrounded by police cars, he allegedly tried to drive his car into the police vehicles, and officers opened fire. Twenty five shots were allegedly fired, and Decedent, who was unarmed, was struck four times and killed, and his passenger was struck once and injured. A grand jury cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing, and a federal investigation found no evidence of civil rights violation. Decedent’s mother then sued on her own and her son’s behalf for Decedent’s wrongful death, claiming in part that he was subjected to racial profiling.

The plaintiff’s mother sought compensatory and punitive damages stemming from her son’s wrongful death caused by alleged civil rights violations. Further claims and damages sought were undisclosed. The parties eventually settled the matter for a sum of $1,500,000.

Man Slipped Into Coma and Died After Heart Surgery

Plaintiff, a 43 year old computer maintenance engineer from Ocean County, lapsed into a coma and died on March 14, 1999, at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., after cardiac catheterization, angioplasty and stent placement. The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that the evidence showed that the defendant doctors used too much Heparin, thinned Plaintiff’s blood excessively and caused a small perforation of the diagonal artery. Plaintiff’s attorney argued that the mistreatment and the doctors’ failure to take appropriate remedial measures caused blood to accumulate between the heart and pericardial sac and caused Plaintiff to bleed to death. They sued the two doctors and their clinic for medical malpractice.

The doctors testified that large doses of the anti coagulant were necessary because they found clots in the left coronary artery and the patient was developing chest pain signaling a possible myocardial infarction. They further testified that subsequent complications were caused by an allergic reaction to contrast dye and other medication administered during the procedures. The defense evidence also showed that the bleeding was caused by the doctors’ vigorous CPR efforts when the patient started failing.

The deceased, who earned $80,000 a year was both a husband and a father. According to the plaintiffs, he suffered a few hours before his death. His estate brought a wrongful death and survival claim and his wife brought a claim on her own account.

The jury returned with a $1.6 million award for economic losses and $25,000 for the conscious pain and suffering. With prejudgment interest, the total recovery will be $1.9 million, Peck said.

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