Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In July of this year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals released an opinion in the case of Reider v. Phillip Morris USA, Inc., ruling that the plaintiff did not properly preserve her objection to the jury’s verdict, which awarded her no damages despite finding the tobacco company Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death. The Court’s decision focused on the jurisdictional requirement of preservation of issues for an appeal, which the plaintiff had not properly done. If the plaintiff had properly objected after the verdict was given, or properly filed the appropriate post-trial motion, she may have been given a new trial and collected damages for the tobacco-related death of her husband. Although the plaintiff was defeated in this case, other tobacco users and their families may be able to collect damages against tobacco companies by filing a Florida wrongful death lawsuit in federal district court.

The Woman’s Claim Against the Tobacco Company and the Verdict that Followed

The plaintiff’s case against Phillip Morris accused the tobacco company of fraudulent concealment, conspiracy, negligence, and strict liability in contributing toward the 1995 death of her husband, who started smoking in 1968. The case stems from a 1996 class action lawsuit, Engle v. Liggett Group, in which all injured smokers in Florida who started smoking before 1996 were allowed to file suit against tobacco companies based on their lies about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

The Florida Supreme Court later decertified the class, which eviscerated the class action lawsuit but left an opening for individual victims to file personal injury, wrongful death, or product liability actions against the tobacco companies under the same legal theory, which is exactly what the plaintiff here did. After a four-day trial, the jury came back with a verdict that Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death, but it determined that she was not entitled to any monetary damages. The woman appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

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Earlier this month in Ocala, a 33-year-old officer who had been with the force for nearly three years was killed in a shooting range accident. According to one local news report, the officer was involved in a training exercise when he was fatally shot by a fellow officer.

The accident took place at the Lowell Correctional Institution while the officers were cleaning their weapons after a training exercise .  Another officer’s weapon discharged and struck the deceased officer in the arm before traveling through his chest. The officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but his arm and side remained exposed. The officer was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

There were several instructors present at the time of the accident, and it is unknown how the second officer’s weapon suddenly discharged. However, the police department has opened up an investigation into whether its own protocols were sufficient to protect against this kind of accident.

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According to one news source, a settlement was recently reached between three of the largest tobacco companies in the country and the approximately 400 plaintiffs who sued them for smoking-related injuries and deaths. The settlement, which resolves only cases pending in a Florida federal court, is believed to be worth $100 million. Thousands of other cases filed against the tobacco companies in Florida state courts are not affected by the settlement. Those cases will proceed unabated.

The cases that settled in federal court were the outgrowth of a 2006 case decided by the Florida Supreme Court. While the court in that case agreed that the tobacco companies knowingly hid the dangers of smoking from the public, it also ruled that the plaintiffs who joined together in that suit could no longer proceed as a class. This meant that the plaintiffs were left to file individual cases in federal court.

To take effect, the settlement must still be approved by all of the plaintiffs with cases in federal court. After the settlement was announced, lawyers for the tobacco companies vowed to zealously fight the cases that are still pending in Florida state courts.

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Earlier this week in Glades County, Florida, a church van packed with 18 people ran a stop sign and plunged into a ditch that was partially filled with water. According to one local news source, eight of the 18 passengers died in the accident. The other 10 passengers were taken to four area hospitals with varying injuries.

Evidently, police are still trying to determine what caused the accident. What investigators do know is that the van was traveling eastbound on State Road 78 when it ran a stop sign at the intersection of US Highway 27. After running the stop sign, the van continued through four lanes of traffic before it plunged into the partially filled ditch. No one saw the van crash; the only witnesses were those aboard the van. It is unclear why the van ran the stop sign, although investigators did tell reporters that the van was rated to carry 16 people and there were 18 inside at the time of the fatal accident.

At the time of the most recent publication, eight people inside the van had died and 10 were still suffering from their injuries. Of the 10, all but two were in stable condition. The other two remain in critical condition. Police are continuing their investigation and will update the news media when more is learned about the tragic accident.

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Earlier this month, a man was arrested in his Illinois home and charged with the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist he had struck with his vehicle over four years earlier. According to one local Illinois news report, the man struck a bicyclist on August 21, 2011 shortly after midnight. Rather than stop and render assistance, he fled the scene.

Evidently, the bicyclist was riding on the wrong side of the road when he was struck by the defendant. After the victim was found on the side of the road, emergency crews attempted to save his life but were unable to do so. Two hours after the accident, the man was pronounced dead.

The driver initially failed to stop at the scene of the accident, but hours later he called the police station and let them know about his involvement in the accident. The police began an investigation that took two years to complete. In that amount of time, the man had moved from Seminole County to Jacksonville and then to Illinois. It is unclear what took so long to complete the investigation.

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There have been recent updates in the Florida case where an individual was killed while he was being arrested by Key West police officers. According to national news reports, the man died on the morning of Thanksgiving in 2013 by what appeared to be asphyxiation. The officers who were involved in the arrest claimed that the man ran away from the police and then subsequently collapsed. However, video footage reveals that the man surrendered before police were anywhere near him. Additional footage also showed that the man’s face was covered in sand, which was contrary to what the police reported.

The man’s family brought a wrongful death suit against the City of Key West police related to his death. The parties began negotiations in an attempt to avoid a lengthy and emotional trial. An initial settlement agreement has been reached but is still awaiting approval from a judge. The police force has stated that this settlement agreement was a business decision rather than an admission of guilt or wrongdoing.

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Last month in Tampa, a 57-year-old man died as a result of an accident that occurred at his place of employment. According to a report by one local news source, the man was working for Infra-Metals when the accident took place.

Evidently, the man was using a forklift to move a large steel beam, when the beam collided with a pile of similar beams nearby. The force from the collision pushed the forklift back, crushing the man inside. Nearby workers attempted to remove the beam as soon as possible, but it was too late by the time they did.

The man left behind a wife, eight children, and 17 grandchildren. His wife told reporters that she wonders what could have been done to prevent the fatal accident. She said that her husband had told her of problems with the forklift in the past, but she assumed that they were all resolved once he stopped talking about them.

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Late last week, a local newspaper reported that a jury awarded a total of $16 million to the families of four individuals who were killed in a helicopter accident back in 2011.

A couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, as well as a pilot, were killed near Lake Mead in the fatal accident. The crash was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. Evidently, the Board found that there was “inadequate maintenance” of the helicopter. The investigation found that there was a faulty bolt that was not found during routine inspections.

Sundance Helicopters owned and managed the helicopter that crashed. They denied any responsibility or liability for over three years. However, a jury finally determined that the company was negligent and that its negligence caused the untimely death of these individuals.

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Approximately one year ago, a Florida college football player was shot and killed by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. In the time since that shooting, two other young, unarmed, men have died because of actions taken by a police officer.

A local news source reported that on September 14, 2013, the young football player crashed his car into the side of a house. The young man then went around the neighborhood trying to seek assistance. However, a neighborhood homeowner called the police because she believed that the young man was attempting to break into her home.

Police arrived shortly afterward, and one of the officers began shooting rounds at the young man. The man was killed after being shot ten times. The police officer claims that the man was running toward him.

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Back in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court issued a decision that “decertified” the class of people who were suing big tobacco companies for the injuries they sustained after becoming addicted to cigarettes. The decertification of the class meant that individual plaintiffs were then permitted to pursue their claims against the tobacco companies alone, rather than as a part of a class action lawsuit.

When the court decertified the class, the lawyers in charge of representing these plaintiffs as a class, were now representing approximately ,500 individual plaintiffs.

Several hundred of these lawsuits were dismissed recently. The Winston-Salem Journal released a report recently that outlines why the judges in charge of these suits dismissed so many at one time. Much of it had to do with questionable lawyering.

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