Category Archives: Wrongful Death

Lawsuits Often Follow America’s Mass Shootings

By David Macaulay, Veritas Legal Media

America is once again gripped by the enormity of another shooting tragedy : this time the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Over the next few days and weeks, the shooter’s motive will be carefully examined. So too will the question of whether school authorities could have done more to avert this tragedy.

In the wake of mass shootings lawyers often step in, although the enormity of the tragedy does not always have a direct bearing on the issue of liability.

In the wake of the Aurora shooting on July 20, 2012 which saw James Eagan Holmes charged with the shooting deaths of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, Torrence Brown Jr., one of the survivors, said he was planning on suing the theater.

Brown was friends with 18-year-old AJ Boik, one of the shooting victims. He said he is seeking therapy and is emotionally distraught after the shooting. The shooting left 58 people injured.

According to reports, Brown plans to sue the Century 16 theater, which is owned by Cinemark, for having an exit door that was not equipped with an alarm or guarded.

Lawsuits often come forward in the wake of mass shootings.  After the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado which 12 students and an adult were killed, some families of the victims attempted to sue gaming companies for $5 billion.

The class action alleged those who carried out the massacre, were influenced by a number of violent video games, in particular one called “Doom.” However, a federal judge dismissed the suit.

There were also a number of unsuccessful lawsuits filed against the school. Some of the impacted families won a settlement against the shooter’s parents and against friends who helped provide guns to the young men.

A number of wrongful death suits were filed in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

In March 2012 a jury awarded $4 million to each of two families who filed a suit. The families’ lawyers argued the school should have notified the students sooner after learning that two other students had been found shot dead in a West Ambler Johnston dormitory room on the morning of April 16, 2007.The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho went on to massacre 30 other people, including the two victims whose families sued – Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson.

At a later hearing Judge William Alexander II set the jury’s award at $100,000 for each family, the highest amount allowed under Virginia’s cap on damages against the state.

The state settled with some other family members, in the wake of the tragedy.

In 2009, more than 50 relatives of the victims of the Fort Hood massacre sued the federal government, claiming authorities ignored warning signs that the accused killer, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was dangerous and violent.

Although lawsuits are common after tragedies plaintiffs face many obstacles. To prove negligence authorities should have known about a risk or have been expected to know. Suing local governments can be difficult even when plaintiffs are successful, issues such as caps often come into play, as demonstrated by the Virginia Tech lawsuits.

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Cruise Industry Safety Questions a Century After the Titanic Sinking

Veritas Legal Media –

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 2012, with the loss of about 1,500 people, marked one of the gravest disasters in peacetime maritime history.

But while some key lessons have been learned questions still linger over the safety of cruise liners a century later.

In today’s more litigious society a disaster such as the loss of the Titanic would have led to multiple lawsuits against the owners White Star Line and the builders Harland and Wolff of Belfast.

Although the Titanic hit an iceberg there’s plenty of evidence of design flaws in the giant ship. Studies after the disaster have pointed to the failure of wrought iron rivets that fastened the hull plates to the vessel’s main structure because of brittle fracture from the impact and the low temperature of the water.

There was a further problem with the watertight compartments of the vessel. Although they were sealed off after the ship hit the iceberg, these compartments had open tops and their walls extended only a few feet above the waterline, allowing them to be breached when the ship tilted.

Instead of sinking in a matter of hours the Titanic should have taken days to go down, allowing time for a rescue operation.

Clearly White Star was culpable for the negligence that allowed the vessel to hit an iceberg in the first place. And other safety standards were compromised. The vessel only had enough lifeboats for half of the passengers on board.

We believe disasters like this have been firmly relegated to the pages of history but have they?

On Jan. 13, 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy with the loss of 17 lives.

As in the case of the Titanic, human error appeared to be to blame after the captain steered the vessel to close to the coastline and hit rocks.

In a subsequent article the New York Times asked how safe passengers on cruise ships really are.

In the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster the issue of safety drills was being scrutinized by cruise ship operators.

“Unlike airplane safety announcements, which take place before takeoff, cruise drills aren’t required before the ship leaves the dock. The Concordia passengers who had boarded before Civitavecchia had already been through the drill, but nearly 700 passengers who joined the ship there had not,” the New York Times reported.

Problems on cruise ships are seldom as dramatic as the Costa Concordia sinking but are a cause for concern in the industry. They include food poisoning.

In 2011 alone there were 14 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses on 10 vessels, that ruined the vacations of hundreds of passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fires on board ships are another problem for the cruise ship industry. In 2011, a blaze aboard a Hurtigruten cruise ship off Norway killed two passengers, injured nine others and forced the evacuation of about half of the 262 people on the ship.

Ross Klein, a Memorial University sociologist who has written two books on the cruise industry, has pointed to a series of problems on cruise ships including serious fires, power failures, crime and deaths in which passengers have fallen overboard.

Klein said some of these cruise ships can carry as many as 4,000 passengers, making them as populous as a small town. Unlike a small town the same rules and regulations are not in place.

“People should go on cruise ships with their eyes wide open, to be aware that there can be accidents.” Klein told

He said in 2011, 22 people fell overboard from cruise ships. Some of these incidents were accidents. Others were suicides. The vast majority were fatal, according to Klein, who compiles cruise accident data on his website

Jim Walker, an attorney who once represented the cruise industry but switched sides, has also questioned safety in the cruise industry.

Walker has represented a considerable number of passengers and crew members in lawsuits against cruise lines.

His clients include the family of George Smith, a passenger who vanished on a Royal Caribbean ship when he was on his honeymoon in 2005.

His family did not believe Smith had accidentally fallen overboard. They claimed Royal Caribbean had failed to properly investigate his disappearance. The family won a $1.3 million lawsuit against the cruise line.

Recently another lawsuit was filed against Royal Caribbean following the death of a passenger who fell overboard.

His mother Susan DiPiero, from Ohio, sued the cruise line for $15,000. Her son, Daniel, 21, fell overboard after a night of drinking. Surveillance cameras revealed that he had fallen over a rail in the early morning hours.

Susan DiPiero said the cruise line should have looked out more for the welfare of its passengers, claiming her son should not have been served with more alcohol at a bar because it was clear he had been drinking.

But more fundamental questions about the cruise industry were raised by the Costa Concordia issue. Britain’s Guardian newspaper questioned the increased size and stability of cruise ships in an article.

Safety standards on passenger vessels have clearly improved since the Titanic disaster. The key question is whether they have improved as much as they should have done.

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All the Danger of the Fun Fair

Veritas Legal Media – 757-582-1836

In 2008 the fun of a fair in South Florida turned into a nightmare when a mother fractured her ribs and clavicle when the kiddie ride she was on with her son turned over and landed on top of her.

She is not the only victim of a fun fair or an amusement park.

The website, that describes itself as the world’s most comprehensive database on these accidents, contains details of numerous horrendous mishaps at fair grounds and fun fairs, some of which have ended up claiming the lives of those who took the rides.

In Feb. 2012, at Hopi Hari theme park in São Paulo, Brazil, a 14-year-old girl died after falling 80-90 feet from a drop tower named “La Tour Eiffel.”

It was a horrifying accident. The drop tower features cars that are pulled slowly up to the top of a 224-foot tall tower and then dropped 129 feet in a matter of seconds, reaching speeds of near 60 miles per hour.

Similar drop towers are found at amusement parks across the United States. The website reported that a 12-year-old boy was killed after he fell from a drop tower in 1999 at Paramount’s Great America theme park in Santa Clara, California. The cause of that accident was never discovered.

In another accident human error was clearly to blame. In Nov. 2011, at the State Fair of Louisiana, a 4-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when a ride suddenly started as the ride operator unloaded passengers.

Reports suggested the ride operator left the control panel active, with its key engaged. As he helped children exit the ride, a child standing in line to board the ride pressed the start button on the control panel and the ride began to move, trapping the child underneath a car.

In August 2011, one of the deadliest fairground accidents in recent decades occurred when a carnival ride broke apart in Villacañas, Spain, sending a row of passenger seats flying across the fairground, killing three men and seriously injuring a girl.

The equipment had passed inspections according to reports, but clearly somebody was to blame because a major mechanical breakdown has occurred when equipment breaks apart in this manner.

In other cases liability can be less clear. In 2011, Abiah Jones, 11, was on a trip for honor-roll students when she plunged 150 feet from the Giant Wheel at Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey.

The girl’s parents filed a lawsuit against the ride’s operator. Although investigators could not discover how the girl got out of the gondola, her parents said the Ferris wheel should have had more restraints.

After the accident New Jersey’s supervisor of enforcement, Michael D. Triplett, issued a letter to operators of Ferris wheels with open compartments, saying the state is establishing a minimum height requirement of 54 inches for children going on rides without a parent or guardian, as well as recommending the minimum of two riders, ABC news reported.

According to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council, the estimated number of injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086, or 0.6 per million patron rides.

There’s a perception that the top tier amusement parks in central Florida, have safety standards that are as high as their admission prices.

But an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel in 2009 questioned amusement park safety. The newspaper found almost 500 suits had been filed against the parks between 2004 and 2008, and 101 of them dealt with rides or attractions.

The others related to “everything from food poisoning to scratches from a wayward vulture during a trained-bird show,” the Sentinel reported.

But riders are probably safer at places such as Universal and SeaWorld than anywhere else.

“They have to have a safe environment or they’re going to face a lawsuit,” Michael Spellman, a Tallahassee attorney who specializes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, told the Sentinel.

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Filed under Amusement park accidents, Serious personal injury, Wrongful Death

A Federal Act that Protects Railroad Workers

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For more than a century railroad workers have been protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), an act brought in after a terrible catalogue of deaths and injuries on America’s railroads.

The legislation followed a massive upsurge in railway building at the end of the 19th Century. While this boom fuelled America’s economy, it was bought at a high price in terms of the number of railroad workers being injured or killed. Railroad use had increased six fold from 1889 to 1920 alone, but safety practices failed to catch up.

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison addressed the dangers in a speech to the U.S. Congress when he compared the plight of the railroad worker to those of a soldier at war:

It is a reproach to our civilization that any class of American workmen, should in the pursuit of a necessary and useful vocation, be subjected to a peril of life and limb as great as that of a soldier in time of war,” he said.

FELA is a U.S. federal law that was enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job, if a worker can prove the railroad was at least partly legally negligent in causing the injury.

The legislation was based upon the federal government’s power over interstate commerce, as granted  in the Constitution. Before it was enacted there was no remedy for injured railroad workers.

Although the FELA has been compared to worker’s compensation insurance provided in other industries, unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is a fault based system dependant on the negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or linked to a faulty piece of equipment.

It’s worth taking the time to find an experienced Virginia (VA) FELA attorney because FELA awards are usually much higher than those of workers’ compensation claims. FELA uses the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”. In other words a jury determines the percentage of negligence for which each party is liable, thereby establishing the percentage of the award to be allocated to the worker.

FELA covers a wide number of injuries. The highest profile cases involve serious injuries or fatalities to workers. In Ohio, for example in 2011,

But FELA is not just about bodily injuries. It also  covers injuries due to asbestos exposure or exposure to diesel fumes, as well as cumulative trauma injuries and repetitive strain injury.

Railroad workers may have additional rights and benefits as outlined by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), a series of federal laws passed by Congress in 1908 to improve railroad safety and provide substantial compensation for injured railroad workers and their families. FELA allows recovery for injury or death caused by:

FELA claims can be brought for a variety of reasons including wrongful death, cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis, silicosis, lung cancer or Parkinson’s injury, and catastrophic injury.

Under FELA railroad employees who can no longer work because of their injuries or conditions contracted while on the railway are entitled to recover for damages for loss of wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress and anxiety or past and future medical expenses related to the injury stated in the claim. FELA also comes into play in wrongful death cases. In a recent case CSX conductor Dennis A. Hemme, 59, died when he was crushed to death in a mainline shove.

In a wrongful death case, damages can be sought by the legal spouse, children, parents or other dependant beneficiaries

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Compressed Gas Poses a Fatal Hazard

The dangers of compressed gas have been outlined in a report into three accidents at a chemical manufacturing plant in West Virginia (WV) in 2010.

Failures at the DuPont Corporation’s Belle chemical manufacturing plant which included the fatal release of phosgene gas, were outlined in the report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Fire Engineering reported.


The three accidents that occurred on January 22 and 23, 2010, at the West Virginia (WV) plant – including a fatal release of deadly phosgene gas, a chemical used as a chemical weapon in World War One.

In this fatal accident an 58-year-old worker died from exposure to phosgene. The chemical leaked when a braided steel hose attached to a tank ruptured. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report followed extensive public consultations.

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said in the Fire Engineering publication report: “Our final report shows in detail how a series of preventable safety shortcomings — including failure to maintain the mechanical integrity of a critical phosgene hose — led to the accidents. That this happened at a company with DuPont’s reputation for safety should indicate the need for every chemical plant to redouble their efforts to analyze potential hazards and take steps to prevent tragedy.”

The board also released this safety video about the dangers of compressed gas.

When things go wrong in industry the results can be horrific, as seen at this chemical plant. The consequences of deadly mistakes can also be costly for the companies involved. Recently we  reported on how two companies responsible for the faulty construction of an industrial oil heater at a natural gas plant in Texas (TX) were ordered to pay $85 million to survivors of a worker killed after a heater at the plant exploded.

Official investigations into fatal industrial accidents often result in violations or shortcomings being uncovered be it the death of a sanitation worker in a Norfolk, VA truck or the deaths of many miners at a West Virginia (WV) coal mine.

When gas is compressed there is a potential toxicity and asphyxiation danger even in the case of harmless gases such as nitrogen because the compression makes the gas a potential bomb, not to mention a potential legal time bomb for companies that fail to take all necessary precautions.

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Filed under Compressed gas, Industrial Accidents, Wrongful Death