When an individual’s death is caused by the negligence or misconduct of another person, a of wrongful death can be made in a civil lawsuit to recover damages. The claim would be made by the court-appointed legal representative of the person’s estate, on behalf of the deceased person and his or her loved ones.
The main damages involved in a wrongful death suit can be classified as either economic or non-economic. Those that are considered economic include medical and funeral expenses, loss of the victim’s expected earnings, and loss of benefits or inheritance caused by the untimely death. These are financial considerations that must be taken into account when determining the rightful amount owed to the victim’s family.
Certain damages can be better classified as non-economic. That is, the damages that are less tangible and cannot easily be appraised. This can include the deceased person’s conscious pain and suffering experienced before death and the loss of services provided by the deceased person. They could even be as abstract as the emotional support lost when a family member dies due to wrongful death.
Although state laws provide guidelines and structure for claims to be made, the cost of a person’s cannot easily be exchanged into the dollar. But if criminal charges cannot be pressed, a civil lawsuit may be the only form of punishment available for the administration of justice.
On December 14, 2013, the lives of five individuals and their families would be forever . At a major intersection in Los Angeles County, a sheriff’s deputy drove at speeds over 80 miles an hour without using his lights or siren, slamming into the side of an SUV entering the intersection.
The driver and front passenger sustained only minor injuries, but the two back passengers, Sarah Paynter (20) and Robert Delgadillo (31), were ejected from the vehicle upon impact. They were declared dead at the scene.
The California Highway Patrol reported that the primary cause of the collision rested with the deputy officer for driving at an unsafe speed for the conditions. The report went on to name the officer’s actions as grossly and the proximate cause for the deaths of two individuals.
Deputy Jannah was responding to a domestic violence call when he was driving 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. The victim-driver claims that he stopped at the four-way stop intersection and did not the officer approaching. As he entered the intersection, the officer collided into the driver side of the SUV, causing the SUV to spin out. The two passengers in the back, who were planning to marry on Christmas day less than two weeks before their deaths, were not wearing seat belts.
The Palmdale Sheriff’s station placed the officer on desk duty while he was being investigated. At around the same time, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office reviewed the case to determine whether or not to file charges.
In November 2015, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County declined to initiate criminal proceedings against the officer. The charge sought—misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter—needed to be filed within one year of the crime. Since the statute of limitations had already passed, the only charge that could be brought against the officer would have been gross vehicular manslaughter.
Although the California Highway Patrol investigation concluded that the officer committed gross vehicular manslaughter, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office claimed a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter could not be proven by the prosecution. The officer maintained his employment with the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station, but he is forbidden to drive while on duty.
The parents of Sarah Paynter, the younger of the two victims to die, have filed a civil lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles and the officer involved in the collision, among other parties. They are claiming damages for , wrongful death, and negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and training.
A claim of negligence requires that a person’s conduct lacks reasonable care and is the cause of physical harm by the negligent action. The sheriff deputy had a duty to exercise reasonable care in carrying out his work. By speeding through a four-way intersection without stopping and without using appropriate warning devices, his negligence caused the death of two individuals and the injury of two more.
This is the basis for the wrongful death the family has made. Were it not for the deputy’s negligence, the lives of two civilians and their families would not have been disrupted.
The third claim of negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and training has been made against the county which employs the officer involved in the collision. As a duty to the community, proper safety training should have been provided to avoid this incident.
Looking further at the case, the two deceased persons were not wearing seatbelts. The respondents in the lawsuit have cited this as a contributing factor in the deaths to mitigate the officer’s role. Since a seatbelt could have significantly decreased the injuries sustained by both deceased victims (including their deaths), their actions may be considered contributory negligence.
While this may impact the court’s decisions in calculating damages owed to the claimant, it does not negate the care the deputy should have exercised.
This case is on-going. The defendants have submitted a motion to bifurcate the trial, wherein the court can divide the trial into separate liability and damage proceedings. The hearing is set for January 24, 2017.
Dolman Law Group
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident due to the negligent behavior of another individual, please call us at (727) 222-6922 or email us through our page to schedule your free consultation. At Dolman Law Group, we have a team of experienced and knowledgeable that can review your case to determine if you can seek damages for injuries sustained. We work on a contingency basis, so we don’t receive any pay unless you receive the compensation you deserve.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712