Rhode Island Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

I read this tragic story this morning out of Alabama.  A young boy was shopping with his mother at a Publix supermarket and asked for a cookie in the bakery section.  The boy suffers from a very serious allergy to tree nuts of all kinds.  As many as two percent of all children today suffer from this allergy which can range in severity from mere annoyance to fatal. Unfortunately, for this young man, he had a fatal allergy.  The family has brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the supermarket.

The cookies in the market were not marked as containing nuts of any kind.  Aware of the seriousness of her sons allergy, the victims mother specifically asked the girl at the counter if there were any nuts in the cookie.  She was told “no.”  The boys mother even tried the cookie herself first but did not notice any nuts in the ingredients.  Horribly, after just 2-3 bites the boy knew something was wrong because his mouth was on fire.  Despite the use of benadryl and an epi-pen, the boy still passed away on route to the hospital.

This story is all the more tragic because it was absolutely unnecessary.  With great credit to the boys parents they claim that this lawsuit is not about money but about awareness.  Even though the country is pretty aware of the existence of peanut allergies and many schools now forbid nuts of any kind, there remains far too much ignorance on the subject.  It is, as it was here, literally a matter of life and death.  Supplying an allergic boy with a cookie containing (even trace amounts of) nuts is the equivalent of handing any one else a cookie containing cyanide.  Hopefully this lawsuit can have their desired effect of informing the public just how important it is to be aware of the presence of nut allergens.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the findings from a study which revealed, the not surprising at all fact that, wrong way drivers are extremely dangerous and cause hundreds of auto accident fatalities each year across the country. The study also finds that the majority of wrong way drivers are intoxicated and operating their vehicle at two to three times the legal limit for alcohol.

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I have written previous posts highlighting the danger of head-on collisions. Head-on accidents are among the most dangerous and life threatening auto accidents that can occur because the speed and force of both vehicles impact directly into one another. Wrong-way drivers, whether on a side street, a main street, or in extreme cases, the highway, create a very high likelihood of a head-on collision.

When an operator is coming down the road in the wrong direction it can be very difficult to avoid collision for a number of reasons. For one, as drivers we are unaccustomed to be on the lookout for wrong-way drivers. While we are trained to always keep our eye on the road, a driver coming the wrong way down the highway or down a one way is not something we are likely to look for. Second, even if we are aware of the wrong way driver it may be impossible to avoid collision. Perhaps there is no room to get out of the way (as in a tight one-way road) or the driver is coming to fast for you to take evasive action (as on the highway).

A car accident caused by a wrong-way driver is always a scary thing. I recently was retained by a woman who was struck by a man driving down the wrong way on Route 195 West in Fall River, Massachusetts. She turned her car abruptly at the last second and was able to avoid a direct head-on collision, but despite her bravery and quick thinking she still suffered a broken leg and ankle in the collision.

If you are injured in an accident caused by a wrong way driver you may be entitled to past and future medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. My office specializes in car accident cases and complex injuries. Call my office for a free consultation and let my experience work for you.

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A recent Supreme Court decision from the State of Maine brings to light some interesting considerations for accidents involving commercial work trucks and insurance coverage. The case, State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance v. Estate of Carey, stems from a tragic auto accident that claimed the life of James Carey. Mr. Carey was struck and killed by Roger Linton who was an independent contractor and former employee of Jennings Masonry. Linton was driving a large commercial truck owned and insured by Jennings but was not working at the time of the accident. State Farm insured the truck involved in the loss.

Linton was not currently an employee of Jennings, but was in the past. He also frequently drove Jennings vehicles with permission. On the date of this accident, he was again driving in a Jennings truck but did not return the vehicle when he completed his work. Instead, Linton took the truck to several friends houses and a tavern. It was during this “excursion” that the fatal auto accident occurred involving Mr. Carey. Linton was legally drunk at the time of the accident and arrested.

Quickly, State Farm petitioned the Court for a declaratory judgment stating that they had no obligation to insure or defend Linton. Their position was that he did not have “permission” to use the vehicle at the time of the accident and was not using it for work purposes, and therefore, he was not legally operating the vehicle at the time of the collision. If he did not have the permission of the owner to operate the vehicle at the time of the accident, State Farm, would not be required to cover the loss. (As a side note, if that sounds unfair because it could leave the owner of Jennings Masonry holding the bag – you are correct. If an insurance company can avoid paying they will regardless of the harm it might present to their insured).

Some States with mandatory insurance coverage have taken the position that since the lawmakers intended all vehicles to carry liability insurance, that they would be inclined to find coverage in a situation like the one at hand, so long as permission was given, at any time, to operate the vehicle. This is the so called “initial permission” rule. The Maine Supreme Court did not accept this approach and instead held that the trial court would have to reconsider the case under the minor deviation rule. The minor deviation rule has long been the standard for determining whether an employees actions are covered under the employees policy. Clearly, an employee acting on behalf of his employer at the time of an accident is covered by the company’s policy. Under the minor deviation rule, an employee who makes a slight or minor detour, such as stopping for lunch, while using a work vehicle will be covered. A major deviation, however, such as the one taken by Linton are unlikely to be covered because it was so far outside of the scope of his employment and work related use of the vehicle, that a jury would conclude that he did not have his employers permission to use the vehicle in that manner.

Auto accidents involving commercial trucks are very serious because of the size and weight of the vehicles involved. The injuries sustained can be catastrophic, or as in the case of Mr. Carey, fatal. It is imperative that you speak with an experienced truck accident attorney right away to ensure that you receive all of the compensation that you deserve.

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Abortion rights and wrongful death law seem not to have much in common, but a new federal lawsuit in Nebraska may have an interesting effect on both abortion laws and wrongful death laws across the country. The lawsuit stems from a tragic auto accident in which a Maryland couple was killed with their two children when a tractor trailer struck their stationary automobile. It turns out that the woman was also pregnant with the couple’s third child. The estate brought the action for wrongful death on behalf of the entire family and cited a 2003 Nebraska law which extends legal protections to an unborn fetus. This is the first case to raise such a statute, but it appears that the law should also give wrongful death rights to the unborn fetus.

Readers can now probably see why this law is problematic when viewed in the light of Roe v. Wade and its subsequent cases. If an unborn fetus is considered a child in the eyes of the law, so that it can be granted legal rights, then it will legally (rather than morally) be murder to terminate the pregnancy. I assure you I am making no stance on the topic here.

Most of the States that have enacted laws similar to the one in Nebraska are right wing leaning States such as Utah, Florida and Nebraska, which are keen on stronger abortion laws and restrictions. The Rhode Island Supreme Court in Amica v. Miccolis held that a nonviable fetus could not maintain a cause of action for wrongful death because it is not a person within the meaning of the wrongful death statute. If this auto accident occurred in RI, the fetus would not have an individual cause of action. If the child, however, could have been delivered (by C-Section for instance) and then died from the injuries sustained in the automobile accident, then a cause of action for wrongful death could proceed.

It will be interesting to follow cases like this one as they unfold. It’s mark on federal law could be wide reaching and may cause more States to enact similar liegislation.

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The story that Progressive Insurance defended the person “responsible” (I put this in quotes and will explain the legality further on) for the death of a policyholder is completely taking over Twitter and the news circuits following a series of blog posts, tweets, and other correspondence between Progressive Insurance and the family of the deceased, Kaitlynn Fisher, nicknamed Katie.

I have tried to learn as much about this story as possible but there are some conflicting reports. I apologize to those intimately involved with this case, in advance, for any errors or misunderstandings.

The Facts of the case

Lifespan, which manages several RI hospitals including: Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital, has today announced that as many as 2,000 patients over the past year may have received an erroneous prescription at one of these Lifespan Hospitals. Lifespan is blaming this medical malpractice error on a computer, or software, malfunction. Their statement does not indicate whether anyone was harmed by this malpractice. It is understood that most affected patients have been contacted regarding this error or are in the process of being contacted.

Giving a patient the wrong medication, the wrong dose of a medication or unnecessary medications are all examples of medical malpractice. While the full extent of these errors by Lifespan are unknown, you may be entitled to collect personal injury damages if you were injured or harmed because of receiving incorrect medication. At the same time, not all victims of this mistake are entitled to compensation. If you discovered the error before ingesting the medication or if you ingested the medication but were not harmed, you may not be entitled to compensation. However, if the wrong medication caused you personal injury, even temporarily, you may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, medical bills (if you were required to seek treatment) and lost wages if you were unable to work.

It is unclear if anyone was seriously injured by Lifespan’s mistake but given the high risk of pharmaceutical medication, it is likely that someone was seriously injured. Patients may have been given medications to which they are allergic or may have been given medications that have harmful or potentially fatal interactions with other medications. Overdoses from receipt of the wrong amount of medication are also possible. Anyone seriously injured because they were prescribed the wrong medication should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney right away.

Following the recent study of Rhode Island’s worst intersections, comes another study identifying the most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians. The group, Transportation for America, determined Providence to be the fourth most dangerous metro area in the Northeast. According to their findings, 117 people were killed while walking in Rhode Island from 2000 to 2009. The study also accounted for population and the proportion of the population that walks to work.

Although, scoring poorly in the Northeast, Providence was relatively low compared to other areas across the Country. Rhode Island finished 31st of the 50 States with Florida apparently the deadliest State in the Country for pedestrians.

The overwhelming majority of pedestrian accidents and injuries arise from car accidents. Clearly, even the largest and strongest of us is no match for a car or truck travelling between 30-50 mph. Pedestrian accidents are always serious and require an experienced attorney ready to fight and go the distance, if necessary.

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With New Year’s resolutions coming around the corner, a new study suggests that there may be another reason for the overweight to shed excess pounds. A recent study suggests that obese men and women are far more likely to die in serious auto accidents than are men and women of normal weight.

According to the study:

  • A body mass index in the class II obesity range of 35 to less than 40 kg/m2 boosted risk of fatality in a severe crash by 21.2% compared with normal weight;
  • And morbidly obese drivers with a BMI of 40 kg/m2 or greater were 55.9% less likely to survive an accident than their normal weight counterparts.

The primary cause for these findings seems to be that obese people are closer to the steering wheel and windshield which may cause traumatic injury upon impact. In addition, there already poor health may make it even more difficult to survive serious injury. The study compared data of over 150,000 auto accident fatalities over the period of five years to arrive at their conclusions.

Interestingly, mildly overweight persons, may experience protection from injury due to their size.

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…and so it should. A suffolk county jury has awarded the family of Marie Evans an astonishing $71 million dollars in her wrongful death lawsuit against Lorillard tobacco, the makers of Newport cigarettes.

There have been many large awards against the tobacco companies in the past and by now the story is known to all. Tobacco companies knew for decades that their product was deadly but continued to hide and ignore evidence while promoting their product as safe. Years, and thousands of deaths later, the tobacco industry is the subject of thousands of lawsuits. But this case added another element that is quite interesting.

The estate of Marie Evans argued that Lorillard tobacco promoted and marketed Newport cigarettes to poor minority children. Ms. Evans was only 9 years old when first given a free pack of Newports while living in the Orchard Park housing projects as a child. Ms. Evans was hooked and smoked Newports until her death at the young age of 54. Attacking the cigarette companies for their predatory marketing practices of handing out free samples to poor and impressionable youth is a new tactic.

Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Steven Archambault, stated during a debate last night that he has a “four-point” plan for dealing with the drunk driving problem in Rhode Island. Archambault is calling for stiffer penalties particularly for second and third offenders or those whose blood alcohol level is very high. The increased penalties mean that those convicted of DUI in RI could face longer prison sentences or longer suspensions of their license.

Archambault, rightfully, commented that this State should not be at the top of the Country for alcohol related auto accident deaths. His statement led the Providence Journal to investigate the accuracy of the statement, and to his credit, Rhode Island ranks very high in drunk driving related auto fatalities. In fact, Rhode Island ranks fifth in the Nation for auto accident fatalities caused by a driver with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit of .08.

Rhode Island suffered 69 driving fatalities in 2008 (the year of the PROJO report) of which thirty-eight were caused by a legally drunk driver. That is nearly forty percent of all auto fatalities! While our rank has bounced around over the years, it is always quite high and in the top 10. For 2003 and 2004, Rhode Island had the worst record for alcohol related auto fatalities. A dubious distinction to be sure!

I will be curious to see if the other Attorney General candidates will take a similar tough stance against DUI given these statistics.

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