Articles Posted in wrongful death

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As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I was sad to read about a suburban Philadelphia accident involving a tractor-trailer whose driver was apparently breaking the law. According to the Times of Trenton, a Brooklyn truck driver was trying to make an illegal U-turn in Mercer County, New Jersey, when an SUV struck it and became trapped underneath the truck. The crash killed Jamella Tisdale, 25; Jaevon Durante, 9; and a baby boy, Jaden Tisdale. Driver Shaqwan Tisdale, 25, and passenger Mellady Duante, 8, were hospitalized with injuries. All of the victims were from Levittown, Pennsylvania. The Mercer County prosecutor’s office has charged trucker Richard Williams, 45, of Brooklyn, with three counts of death by auto.

Both the Tisdale SUV and the tractor-trailer driven by Williams were heading south on Brunswick Pike in Lawrence, N.J., when the crash happened. Authorities believe Williams was trying to make a U-turn at the intersection with Darrah Lane around 6:30 p.m. on August 2 when the SUV struck the side of the truck and became wedged underneath it. Emergency crews found two-thirds of the SUV underneath the truck and had to stabilize the truck before they could begin extracting the passengers, which took several hours. No injuries to Williams were reported. He was being held in the Mercer County Corrections Center in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Unfortunately, this pattern of deadly injuries to victims in cars while truck drivers walk away is not uncommon. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I know that truck drivers are well protected by their much larger, much heavier vehicles. By contrast, a Chevy Tahoe like the one this family was driving is far lighter than the truck–and therefore contributes much less force to a crash. That’s why people inside ordinary cars can be catastrophically injured in crashes with big rigs, even when the crash was clearly the trucker’s fault. When truck drivers and their trucking companies break the law–or violate trucking safety regulations–the innocent motorists around them can suffer. As a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, I believe the cost of that suffering should be laid at the feet of the irresponsible driver or trucking company that caused it.
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A wrongful death claim filed by a hunter’s widow has been remanded to Bucks County Court of Common Pleas by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson. The accident happened on November 29, 2010. The case was sensationalized when it was discovered that the Quakertown, PA, resident, Barry Groh, was mistaken for a deer and shot by David Manilla, a Worcester, PA, lawyer, who is also the nephew of Michael Marino, a former Montgomery County District Attorney. Because he is a convicted felon, Manilla was not supposed to be in possession of firearms whatsoever when he killed Groh on Manilla’s land on opening day of deer season. Groh had permission to hunt on Manilla’s property at the time of the shooting. Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Marino was a member of the hunting party. It is alleged that he did not act fast enough when Groh was shot and dying. No charges were filed against Marino or Manilla.

On Jan. 10, 2011, Barry Groh’s widow, Theresa Lynn Groh, filed a suit claiming wrongful death against Manilla in Bucks County. Her suit claims he acted recklessly and carelessly on the day her husband was killed. She alleges that Manilla failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the shooting, he was riding around with a loaded firearm on an ATV and he did not notify law enforcement personnel for 30 minutes after Groh was shot by Manilla.

Since then, she has also filed more civil suits in state court, including a complaint in trespass against Barbara Fletcher, who was Manilla’s lover, a complaint for declaratory judgment against Allstate Insurance Co. and a complaint in trespass against Marino, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co., as well as David and Vivian Manilla. These suits were consolidated by a Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge for pre-trial discovery. Another member of the hunting party, Robert Monestero, was also sued by Groh. Monastero’s attorney filed a motion to move the case to Philadelphia federal court. Groh had hoped to have Monestero deposed for the consolidated complaints against Manilla, Marino and Fletcher, however Monestero’s lawyer said his client wouldn’t testify until he had been made aware of the specific charge against him. When Groh finally filed a complaint against Monestero, his lawyer filed a motion to transfer the case to Philadelphia federal court.

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As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I was sad to read about a recent car crash that took the life of a 66-year-old woman. According to the Delaware County Times, a four-car crash took place on Township Line Road in Haverford earlier this month, near its border with Upper Darby Township. The article says a car heading north made a sudden lane change, causing the car behind to swerve. Unfortunately, the second car crossed the center divider and crashed head-on into the victim’s Chevy Malibu, which was then struck by another vehicle in the same lane. The driver of the Malibu was pronounced dead at the scene. The other drivers involved were sent to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. The Haverford Police Department is investigating.

A car headed north toward Philadelphia apparently cut off a Ford Focus heading in the same direction around 12:30 in the afternoon. To avoid an accident, the Focus swerved, but ended up in the southbound lane, where it hit the victim’s Malibu. The Malibu was then hit by a Ford Explorer SUV. A Ford Windstar minivan was also involved, but the article didn’t specify its role. The victim, who was not identified pending notification of her family, was extracted from her car by firefighters and pronounced dead at the scene. The other drivers involved, also not identified, went to the hospital with injuries not believed to be life-threatening. The crash shut down traffic on West Township Line Road for nearly three hours.

This accident is unusual in that the responsibility seems to have been assigned to the driver of the vehicle that cut off the Focus. If that turns out to be true–after the police do their investigation–it would mean that all of the injuries and damages stemming from the crash are the responsibility of that driver. That would be true even if the vehicle never actually hit any other vehicle. Because I work with so many accident victims in my job as a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I’d be interested in seeing whether the insurance companies are willing to agree with that assessment. Insurance companies don’t like to pay expensive claims–and a crash involving four cars and a death will be very expensive. As a result, sometimes they look for ways to paint the accident as the fault of someone else’s insured. Pointing out that the first car never struck another vehicle might be such an excuse–but even if it didn’t strike a vehicle, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t involved. As a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, I hope everyone involved in the crash is able to get fair compensation without this kind of fight.
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As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I often have the grave but important privilege of telling families how they can recover financial compensation for the death of a loved one. The injuries that you can recover money for vary from state to state, but typically include the lost person’s care, companionship and love; and his or her income. In many states, including Pennsylvania, families may also recover money for the pain and suffering of the lost person, if the person was not killed instantly. In Rutland v. South Carolina Department of Transportation, the issue was whether South Carolina does or should recognize pre-impact fear as a compensable injury. The case was brought by Clarence Rutland, who lost his wife, Tiffanie Rutland, in a car crash. The state’s high court ultimately declined to rule on whether her pre-death fear should be compensable, saying not enough evidence was presented to show conscious pain and suffering.

The Rutlands were in the backseat of a car driven by Joseph Bishop; their infant son was also in the car. Bishop hit a patch of water on the roadway and his Chevy Blazer flipped. Clarence Rutland was entirely thrown from the vehicle and Tiffanie Rutland was partly ejected. When Clarence was able to get back to the vehicle, he found Tiffanie’s head hanging out of the window; she was cold and unresponsive, but a bystander said she had a pulse. After settling with Bishop’s insurance company, Clarence sued the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) for negligent maintenance of the highway and General Motors for defective design of the window. His settlement with GM and verdict after trial against SCDOT included compensation for Tiffanie’s pain and suffering, but SCDOT objected, saying there was no evidence to support her pain and suffering. The trial judge agreed and reduced the judgment to nearly zero. On appeal, the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed, saying South Carolina does not recognize pre-impact fear as an injury.

Clarence again appealed, and the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed, but on different grounds. The question of whether the state should recognize pre-impact fear as a cognizable element of damages is novel, the court said. However, it found no need to consider the issue, because it found no evidence presented of Tiffanie Rutland’s conscious pain and suffering before or after the accident. At trial and on appeal, Clarence Rutland offered only a discussion of his own fear prior to the crash, using that to speculate that Tiffanie must have felt the same fear. But according to the high court, the crash took place quickly and the evidence suggests that Tiffanie died instantly, giving her no time to think about the situation. Thus, regardless of whether South Carolina recognizes pre-crash fear, the court said, not enough evidence supports such an award in this case. As a result, the high court went on, Clarence’s claim that the judgment should not have been reduced also fails. A dissent argued that the reduction was inequitable to the defendants because SCDOT will pay nothing.

That dissent interests me as a Philadelphia accident lawyer, because it notes that Clarence may not have had a chance to present evidence of Tiffanie’s pre-impact fear. His suit was for wrongful death, and South Carolina requires a separate survival action to recover for the deceased person’s own damages. This situation also exists in Pennsylvania, where families can recover for pain and suffering through a survival action that benefits the estate of the deceased. The difference between the two can be tricky, especially for families already suffering from grief and shock, which is why it’s vital to talk to a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer as soon as you think you might be interested in suing the party at fault for the accident.
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Two people were seriously hurt last week — and one woman was killed — in a Philadelphia car accident near US-1 and Street Road in Bucks County.

Officials believe that the driver of the 2000 Volvo — which crashed into a sign, flipped over multiple times and then burst to flames — had been racing another car, a white Ford Crown Victoria, on the other side of Lincoln highway. The catastrophe struck just around 10:30 pm, when the Volvo rocketed out of the Northbound Lane and smashed into a sign for a car parts and accessories store. As the car flipped, a female passenger and the male driver – later identified as Mary Logan and Aurelio Xhepaj – got ejected. A third passenger, 19-year-old Michelle Price, was trapped in the back seat. She ultimately died during the Philadelphia car accident and roll-over-sparked inferno.

Good Samaritans quickly responded to the disaster.

Seven people from a Red Roof Inn across the street rushed out to the car with fire extinguishers and other gear to try to help. One witness said that the flames reached 10 feet high at their peak. Bystanders managed to remove the driver and the ejected female passenger from the flames and wreckage.

But they could not rescue the woman pinned in the back.

Bryan Baez, an employee who responded to the disaster, told North East Philadelphia “we tried everything we could. I feel kind of hopeless. I couldn’t save [the passenger]… I tried. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the hero.”

Pennsylvania auto accidents can happen in fractions of seconds.

Like earthquakes, fights, and other violent/visceral/emotional events, car accidents often “seem longer” in memory. But even in an accident like this one – where a car rolled over multiple times and eventually burst into flames – the entire “crash event” probably took just 60 seconds or less.

The moral is that your capacity to assess what happened in your crash will be limited by the constraints on your ability to perceive fast moving events. This may seem like a subtle, almost irrelevant point. But if you want to build an effective case to collect damages from the driver who hit you, or from a responsible insurance company, you need to be very careful about how you investigate the crash and prepare your case.

You do not need to struggle through the investigative process by yourself…
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The parents of Zachary Hartwell have filed a Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuit against the estate of the late Ryan Dunn, star of TV’s “Jackass” series. Hartwell and Dunn died last year, when the 34-year-old Dunn crashed his Porsche at 130 miles per hour into the forest. Reports from the tabloid TMZ.com suggested that Dunn had been “extremely drunk” on the night of the crash.

Hartwell’s parents are suing both Dunn’s estate and the bar that provided alcohol to Dunn on the night of the crash. They are arguing that the bar should have realized that Dunn was drunk and thus they should have stopped serving him alcohol. Hartwell had served in the Navy and had worked as a stunt driver.

The Pennsylvania probate laws that will govern this dispute are quite complicated. Certainly, many in the Philadelphia car accident law community will be watching closely, since the case involves a deceased celebrity, and since the nature of the crash was so spectacularly catastrophic.

Understanding your rights as a family member, if you’ve lost someone in a Pennsylvania accident or workplace event

Whether you lost your husband after he fell off scaffolding while working on a downtown Philadelphia skyscraper; or you lost a child in a tragic drunk driving crash in a Philadelphia college town, you undoubtedly want to see that justice is done.

But you also may still be reeling from the shock of the death — and from all the consequences for your financial, emotional, and family life. The team here at Rosenbaum & Associates understands the nuances and difficult decisions that family members have to make and how even small disagreements about money or wills or burial decisions can provoke strife and ill-will.
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As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I was saddened to see an article about the death of an 11-year-old girl at the hands of an alleged DUI driver. According to NBC 10, Samantha Nguyen-Ortanez of Sicklerville, NJ, was struck as she walked out of Captain Jesse G’s Seafood Market March 25 with her family. Also injured in the crash were her three-year-old stepbrother, her stepmother, a Captain Jesse’s employee and a woman in a passing vehicle. Not injured was the driver alleged to be at fault, Max Drosi of Miami, 28. Drosi allegedly was driving under the influence and looking at the GPS of his rental car when he ran a red light and hit an SUV passing through the intersection. Drosi was arrested the same day and charged with DUI; homicide while driving under the influence; four counts of aggravated assault while driving under the influence; and reckless endangerment.

The area is a busy one for pedestrians because it houses south Philly’s Italian Market, a tourist draw full of restaurants and shops. Drosi is accused of running a red light at the corner of Washington Avenue and Eighth Street, t-boning an SUV that was legally proceeding through the intersection. The SUV was sent out of control and pushed into the family as it was coming out of Captain Jesse’s, then hit the front of the business itself. Samantha was pinned to a wall by the vehicle and died at the scene. Her stepmother and stepbrother, the SUV’s driver and a Captain Jesse’s employee were all taken to the hospital and listed in stable condition. A Philadelphia police inspector, Joe Sullivan, said Drosi admitted at the scene that he was distracted by looking down at the GPS device. Sullivan emphasized the importance of pulling over when using any electronic device.

As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I second that advice. I frequently work with people who have suffered very serious losses because of an auto accident, and the accidents are almost always preventable with a little more care. And with the rise of smartphones and GPS devices, electronic devices are now very common distractions for drivers of all ages. Because Drosi’s car was a rental car, it would be interesting to investigate whether the rental car company bears any legal responsibility for the distraction. GPS devices are now standard in many rental cars. If the rental car company knew or should have known that the devices are correlated with more accidents, it may be liable for providing them or failing to instruct customers on using them safely. Of course, Drosi is responsible for his own alleged intoxication, and I would also expect any Pennsylvania injury lawsuit to focus on that.

At Rosenbaum & Associates, we have spent more than 25 years helping injured people in eastern Pennsylvania seek justice and financial compensation from the people who hurt them. In that time, we’re proud to say we’ve created a strong record of results for clients who entrusted us with their cases. This includes compensation for an injury or a death in the family and the associated emotional losses, as well as for all economic losses related to the crash, such as loss of income and huge medical bills. Our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers represent victims of all types of accidents, including car, truck, motorcycle and pedestrian crashes; injuries from defective products; slip-and-fall accidents on someone else’s property; and injuries in the workplace, including construction sites.
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As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I routinely handle cases that straddle the Pennsylvania state border with New Jersey. Because New Jersey is part of the Philadelphia metro area, it’s not uncommon for a New Jersey resident to be involved in an auto accident in Pennsylvania, or vice versa. Occasionally, this can cause problems for drivers making insurance claims outside their home state. In Amica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Fogel, the situation was similar: the Fogel family had moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, and taken their Amica insurance policy with them. Amica knew about the move. However, when the family was involved in a bad accident in Pennsylvania, the company had not yet converted the policy to a Pennsylvania policy, which would give the Fogels more compensation. In this ruling, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that New Jersey choice-of-law rules apply to the dispute, but point to Pennsylvania law.

The Fogels moved to Pennsylvania in August 2008, and father Edward Fogel called Amica in September 2008 to notify it that they had moved permanently. The company began billing in Pennsylvania immediately, but told him it could not convert his policy to a Pennsylvania policy until he and his wife had Pennsylvania driver’s licenses and vehicle registration. That did not happen until early 2009. However, in October of 2008. Edward Fogel and his three daughters were hit head-on by an allegedly intoxicated driver. The crash killed daughter Melissa Fogel and seriously injured the others. The at-fault driver had liability insurance of $100,000, which was paid but did not meet the family’s financial needs. The family had PIP insurance for $250,000 per family member. However, under Pennsylvania law, they would be entitled to “stack” their policies for more than one vehicle, collecting more money; New Jersey did not allow this. The Fogels sought to collect under Pennsylvania law, and Amica filed in New Jersey for a declaratory judgment that New Jersey law applies. This was transferred to Pennsylvania district court, which eventually granted summary judgment in favor of Amica. The Fogels appealed to the Third Circuit.

They had better luck at the appeals court. The Third started by noting that under existing caselaw, New Jersey law should be chosen because New Jersey was the forum in which the case began. It then applied New Jersey law to determine which state’s law controls the actual insurance dispute. A 1998 New Jersey Appellate Division case, NJ Manufacturers Insurance Co. v. MacVicar, had strikingly similar facts’ to the Fogels’ case, the Third said; that family also sought to apply Pennsylvania law to a New Jersey policy after moving but before converting the policy. That case stayed in New Jersey state court, however, and the Appellate Division ultimately decided that Pennsylvania law applied to the crash because New Jersey follows the Third Restatement of Conflicts of Laws, which says to choose the law of the state with the most significant relationship to the parties and the transaction at issue. When the Fogels moved to Pennsylvania, the insured risk clearly also moved to Pennsylvania. Thus, it didn’t matter that the Fogels hadn’t yet reregistered their vehicles and gotten the rewritten policy; both parties were on notice that they were driving in Pennsylvania. Following MacVicar, the Third also ruled that Pennsylvania law should apply because Pennsylvania has a greater governmental interest in the case. Thus, it reversed and remanded the case for summary judgment on the choice of law issue.

As a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, I’m glad to see the court apply Pennsylvania law to people who were clearly Pennsylvania citizens at the time of their accident. As the Third Circuit noted, Pennsylvania has a strong public policy interest in its stacking law, predicated on the belief that its citizens should be able to use all of the insurance they have purchased. For people like the Fogels, who are now dealing with serious injuries to three of the four remaining family members, this is significant because their financial needs could be very significant. A severe head injury, for example, could leave its victim permanently disabled, requiring retraining in basic life skills. If any of the victims is too badly injured to work, he or she will need some kind of financial help for life. That’s one reason why accident victims come to our personal injury law firm — to pass these steep financial costs on to the irresponsible people who caused them and the insurance companies that have promised to pay them.
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As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, one thing I want all injured people to know is that insurance companies are not their friends. After a bad accident, insurers or other representatives from an at-fault company may approach the victims with money, offering a relatively small payment in exchange for a signature. You should never, ever sign anything or take money from anyone representing the party that caused your accident! This is sometimes a legal document in disguise, and your signature may legally bar you from pursuing any more compensation in the future. That was the case in Gonzalez v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, a Nebraska Supreme Court case involving a waiver of liability unwittingly signed by a grieving mother. The court ultimately sent her case back to trial court, ruling that she should have a chance to prove that the waiver was void because it fraudulently failed to explain that it was a binding mutual understanding.

Efrain Ramos-Domingo, age thirteen, died after being struck by a train at a railroad crossing. His mother, Manuela Domingo Gaspar Gonzalez, was approached two days later by Union Pacific, which offered $15,000 in exchange for her signature on a document releasing the company from liability. Gonzalez spoke no English and had no money. In later court proceedings, she claimed she did not understand the release and the Union Pacific representative did not explain its legal consequences. She later filed a wrongful death and breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit, alleging that the intersection was defectively designed; Union Pacific’s operation was negligent; and the release should be void because it was fraudulently obtained. The trial court dismissed the wrongful death claim, citing the release, and also dismissed the fiduciary duty claim after discovery. Gonzalez appealed both decisions.

The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the trial court on the fiduciary duty claim, but reversed on the issue of the waiver. Union Pacific argued that contracts are generally upheld when the signer had the chance to read them and failed to do so. But in this case, the high court found, Gonzalez had no chance to read it because she expressly pleaded that she cannot read English. Because the Union Pacific representative also didn’t explain the meaning of the release, the high court found that this raised enough triable facts to survive a motion to dismiss. It dismissed Union Pacific’s argument that Gonzalez had to return the $15,000 in order to rescind the contract. This is true in the case of a legal rescission of a contract, the court said, but in this case, Gonzalez is arguing for an equitable rescission based on the circumstances of the signing. This is essentially a declaration that no contract ever existed. Furthermore, the court said, rescinding a contract for fraud carries no obligation to return money at all. In addition, it said, it would be inequitable to ask Gonzalez to return the money in order to pursue her claim when she has likely spent it on Efrain’s funeral. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that Union Pacific created no fiduciary duty to Gonzalez by “offering to help.” It sent the case back to trial court for further proceedings on the wrongful death claim.

This case contains a lesson that all personal injury victims and their families should understand: It pays to be careful when approached by an at-fault company. Any company with enough money, or its insurance company, will try to limit the amount it pays out. While most Philadelphians are fortunate enough to be able to read and speak English, unscrupulous people can still take advantage of them in the time of emotional distress right after an accident. I advise all victims to politely decline offers from insurance company representatives until they have at least had a chance to discuss the offer with me. In fact, if I am your Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, they should never contact you directly; they should always go through my office. While it’s tempting to be polite, it is much more important in cases of severe injury or wrongful death to protect your legal rights, including your right to pursue fair compensation.
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As a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, I was interested to see a recent ruling on a wrongful death claim stemming from a slip and fall accident in south Jersey. In Risko v. Thompson Mueller Automotive Group, Inc., the court ordered a new trial in the case because of what were described as “outlandish statements” to the jury by the plaintiff’s attorney. The trial judge originally interrupted the disputed statements to chastise the attorney and warn that he was considering declaring a mistrial, but ended up allowing the case to continue. After the jury awarded $1.75 million to Peter Risko, the dealership successfully moved for a new trial. The appeals court reversed that order, but the state Supreme Court reversed it again, saying the comments warranted a new trial.

The underlying case involved the alleged wrongful death of Camille Risko, who fell down in an car showroom in Hammonton, N.J., breaking her hip and leading to colitis and eventually septic shock that took her life. At the summation of the wrongful death trial, Risko’s wrongful death attorney compared Camille Risko’s experience to torture, noted that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution outlaws torture, and told the jurors to report to the judge any juror who found for less than $1 million because they would be “ignoring the law.” They found for $1.75 million. The judge granted a new trial on the dealership’s request, saying he should have declared a mistrial or cautioned the jury about the excessive statements. A divided Appellate Division reversed, and the dealership appealed. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the inflammatory remarks warranted a new trial on damages only, because the trial judge failed to act immediately. Justice Rivera-Soto concurred and dissented in part, arguing that deference required a new trial on liability as well as damages.

As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I sympathize with the plaintiff in this case. Because of this series of appeals, Peter Risko now has to wait even longer to put this episode behind him and find out whether he will ultimately be fairly compensated for the unnecessary, avoidable death of his wife. Slips and falls sound like no big deal, but for older people and people who land in an unlucky place, they can be crippling or even deadly. A broken hip would have been a hardship in itself for Camille Risko; the complications she later suffered could have destroyed her quality of life even further. That’s why it’s vital for business owners to avoid maintenance problems or sloppy construction site practices that create tripping hazards, take away handrails and create other problems for visitors to the site.
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