Death is an unfortunate part of life. Most people learn that at a very young age; it is a favorite theme of poets, singers, and directors, and it is unavoidable for all of us. But while all deaths are tragedies, perhaps the most painful are the unexpected deaths caused by others.
A wrongful death occurs when, because of negligence, inaction or malice of another party, an individual needlessly dies. Statistics show that in Dallas, Texas, more than three people die each day because of an accident. Accidents happen every day, but when those accidents are avoidable, the fault lies with the individual who did not take the proper precautions. Many times, that person or party may be liable for the death if they are at least in part, if not completely, responsible for the accident that caused it. While there are many causes of wrongful death, some are more common than others. They include medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, slips and falls, product malfunction, workplace injuries and a few others.
Perhaps the most common cause of wrongful death is medical malpractice. This occurs when healthcare professionals, for whatever reason, act negligently, resulting in the death of a patient. The medical profession is one of the most closely regulated professions in the country. Hours of education, practice and certification are in place to ensure that accidents don’t happen. But still they do, and often. An article in the Washington Post reports that, according to a study led by Martin Makary, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 251,000 fatalities each year.
The potential for mistakes and their catastrophic consequences are myriad. They can range from treatment for a misdiagnosis to the wrong prescription to other errors.
And the mistakes are not confined to hospitals or urgent care facilities. These sorts of mistakes are evident in elder care facilities, as well. Something as simple as bad sanitation may cause infections, which in an elderly patient with a compromised immune system may lead to death. Nursing homes may be especially vulnerable, as the frailty of many residents require extra care. Something as simple as a broken step and a fall may be catastrophic.
As there are federal and local regulations in place, liability is often slightly more clear when the death occurs in a nursing home or long-term care facility.Statistics show the potential for elderly abuse and wrongful death cases may rise dramatically in the next few years. (See The Nursing Home Abuse Guide.) They show that as of the 2010 Census, 40 million individuals, or 13 percent of the population, are currently 65 or older; in the next 40 years, that number is set to increase to more than 19 percent of the overall population.
Slips and Falls
One of the most common types of accident is the slip and fall. These may occur when floors are slippery and customers are not given proper warning, resulting in a fall that could be life-threatening. If an individual is hurt because of an avoidable accident on a company’s property, if the company knew of the issue, they may be held liable for the accident.
The National Safety Council (NSC) states that slips and falls accounted for 32,000 deaths in 2014, and in the workplace an estimated 600 people died and 47,000 were injured in 2014. The NSC reports that slips and falls were the third leading cause of unintentional deaths in 2014. These are the most common areas for slips and falls:
- Cluttered Hallways
- Areas with Heavy Traffic
- Uneven Surfaces
- Unstable Work Surfaces
- Areas Prone to Moisture and Spills.
Yet another of the most common accidents leading to wrongful death is product malfunction. Even with a machine as simple as a lawn mower, if the safety mechanisms do not work as they are designed, or if the design is faulty, and an accident leads to death, the manufacturer in some cases may be held responsible and liable for the death.
One of the most common causes of wrongful death injuries are injuries that occur in the workplace. These injuries are sometimes unavoidable accidents: some work places, especially oil and manufacturing facilities, heavy industry and others, are inherently dangerous places. Other times, injuries may be the result of safety violations or a lack of safety procedures. As a general rule, the employer is liable for accidents or wrongful deaths that occur on the job, but depending on the situation, liability may also extend as far as a manufacturer, safety inspector and other individuals.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the government entity in charge of workplace regulations, estimates that, in 2015, 4,379 workers died on the job. A majority of them – 21.4 percent – took place on construction sites. The top four causes of workplace construction deaths in 2015 included:
- Falls (38.8 percent)
- Struck by Object (9.6 percent)
- Electrocutions (8.6 percent)
- Caught in/between (7.2 percent).
By far, the most common cause of wrongful deaths is motor-vehicle accidents. These fatalities occur for a variety of reasons, and liability ranges from the drivers to the product manufacturer. The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) released statistics that show that 37,461 motor-vehicle fatalities occurred in 2016, caused by and affecting (in descending order):
- No seat belt
Consult an Attorney
Wrongful death can be caused by a variety of reasons, and many times may be compensated. The only way to know for sure, though, is to consult an attorney. An attorney has the experience and the legal knowledge to evaluate claims and inform an individual whether they have a case.
With over 50 years of legal experience in Texas and working out of offices in Dallas, Guajardo & Marks of Dallas has the knowledge and resources to help with your legal needs. If you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment, contact us online or call us at 972.774.9800.