Nobody can bring back a lost loved one. Thus, our justice system will never be perfect. Our criminal justice system can put wrongdoers in jail, but doesn’t prosecute careless companies and individuals for negligence except in rare situations. Our civil justice system can’t put wrongdoers in jail; the “fix” we have is to require the careless company or person or insurance company to pay money to the victim’s family.

Even though it’s not a perfect system, money can be a powerful tool. Money can punish the bad conduct and deter future choices to ignore basic safety rules. Also, money recovered by families can be used to help pay for care and education of surviving children and grandchildren, to create a memorial or scholarship fund, or any number of ways that help the family cope with their loss.

The history of how our legal system treated victims and surviving families of wrongful death is surprising to many. Under the common law system inherited from England, the law of the land in the United States was that a person’s claim died with him or her. Thus, the surviving family was left with no remedy at law. The wrongdoer simply walked away with no civil penalty. As a result, duals were fought in the streets as Americans struggled to find “justice” after a person was killed through the fault of another. Thankfully, states started passing “wrongful death statutes” that made it the law of the land in this country that a deceased person’s claim lives on in the name of the personal representative for the deceased’s estate. Thus, the need to dual in the street for civil justice was ended.

Today, attorneys help families fight for justice through the insurance claims system and in a court of law.  Here are a few examples of cases where I’ve helped families in wrongful death lawsuits:

  • Case against a national defense contractor that didn’t use adequate warnings on a deadly confined space, resulting in the asphyxiation death of a young worker.  The company and insurer settled at mediation after a lawsuit was filed;
  • Case against an inspector and seller who failed to properly disclose the presence of a defective home elevator, resulting in the death of a young boy.  The insurance companies initially refused to pay any compensation to the surviving mother.  After a lawsuit was filed, the court ruled in favor of the mother on several motions.  As a result, the insurance companies settled.
  • Case against a concrete hauling company and its careless driver for running an elderly woman into oncoming traffic, resulting in her untimely and preventable death.  The insurance company initially refused to pay any compensation to the surviving family.  After a lawsuit was filed and substantial discovery conducted, the insurer agreed to settle prior to trial.

Sometimes, an attorney can help a family resolve a wrongful death claim without filing a lawsuit.  Recently, I was able to help obtain the full insurance policy limits on behalf of adult children who lost their father after being struck on the Oregon Coast by a reckless driver under the influence of drugs.  On the family’s behalf, I made two claims:  one against the reckless driver’s insurance company, and the other against the decedent’s own insurance company for Underinsured Motorist ("UIM") benefits.  Both insurance companies paid the full amount to the decedent’s estate without the need for a lawsuit.