Posts tagged with "wrongful death"

Family Awarded $7.6 Million for Forgotten Gallbladder Death

Nam Lee was 60 years old when he was admitted to the New York Hospital Queens in 2008 for an inflamed gallbladder. His surgery to remove the organ was set for the next day, but somehow never made it onto the surgical schedule. The day after that, his name was again left off the schedule. By then, he was too sick for surgery and died on his fourth day in the hospital.

How could such a preventable death have occurred? A lawyer for the hospital admitted the facility messed up, but that didn’t bring Lee back. Worse, he was the primary caregiver to an adult daughter who suffered from mental illness, who had no choice but to enter a state institution after her father’s death.

A jury took note of the family’s plight last week and found the hospital liable for $7.6 million, an unusually high amount in New York state, where wrongful death suits are only allowed to consider economic losses, and not take into account factors like emotional pain and suffering.

New York is one of only eight states in the nation that only looks at economic damages in wrongful death cases. “Wrongful death has a very strict construction,” says Andrew Barovick. “You have to be able to assign a monetary value that the family is going to do without because the person is no longer around. There’s no component to take into account the emotions of the family left behind.”

Lee was a 60-year-old salesman, so it’s unlikely his future earnings would be valued at the same level as, say, a hedge fund manager in his twenties. However, the fact that he was a caregiver to a disabled daughter could be considered—services provided to the family are eligible to be included in the award. “Something that can be assigned some value, even if it’s very token,” Barovick says. “Things like watching grandchildren, driving a grandmother around, helping kids with their homework.”

The fact that the suit also involves medical malpractice also helps account for the award’s value—the jury is allowed to consider the pain and suffering of Lee himself in the days before he died while he waited for a surgery that never came.

The ban on non-pecuniary damages in wrongful death cases prevents hospitals from being held accountable for their treatment, Barovick says. “There are countless cases in New York state where a hospital kills an elderly retired person, and the aggrieved family then has to hear from someone like me that’s it’s really not worth bringing a lawsuit because there’s really no damages,” he says. “A court will look at this in a very cold and clear way. So many wrongful deaths involve elderly people who, under the law, have lives that aren’t worth much.”

New York has not yet been hit with so-called tort reform laws that have been popping up around the country, limiting what plaintiffs can collect in malpractice cases, so some measure of punishment does exist for hospitals that kill their patients. However, hospitals have been under fire recently for under-reporting errors. “There’s a whole culture of not reporting errors within hospitals,” says Barovick. “Doctors not reporting other doctors, not only within hospitals but with state medical boards and disciplinary boards. Even when it’s done, it often takes a lot to actually see doctor discipline take place.”

“In general there’s very little accountability and the whole tort reform movement has poisoned people against plaintiffs and trial lawyers,” the lawyer says. “At least in New York, we can still bring most kinds of medical malpractice cases.”

Lee’s widow said she plans to use the money to bring her daughter home from the state institution, but doesn’t start spending yet—the hospital is appealing the award.

“The verdict was grossly excessive based on sympathy,” hospital attorney Shawn Kelly told the New York Daily News. “The jurors were overwhelmed with sympathy for the family and the daughter. That’s what happens on Christmas Eve.”

The verdict could still help hospital conditions by drawing attention to the Queens facility’s regrettable, and preventable, mistake. “Even if it does get reduced on appeal,” Barovick says, “it made the press and it’s going to increase awareness and will hopefully incentivize the hospitals to improve.”

By Aaron Kase

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

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Family Awarded $13 Million for Tragic Day at the Pool

Across the US, all year round, millions of people swim for fun and recreation in backyard pools, public pools, private clubs, and beaches, ponds, and lakes. It’s not all fun and games, though. About 10 people drown each day. Usually, two of the victims are 14 years old or younger. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between 1 and 14 years old.

Take Soo Hyeon Park, for example. At 13 years old, he and his family (a sister and his parents) were visiting from South Korea in July 2008; they were staying with friends in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The family, together with their friends and their teenage children, visited Graydon Pool, a popular local “swimming hole” that’s owned and operated by the Village of Ridgewood.  It’s spring-fed, about three acres big, has beach areas and a “deep water” area that’s at least 12 feet deep. Even the water, though clean, looks like water you’d see at the beach, not the crystal clear water you see at the local YMCA, for example.

Park and the other teenaged boys went swimming in the deep area. For some reason, Park began struggling to stay afloat and eventually went underwater. One of his friends tried to rescue him but couldn’t. Park drowned.

In the parents’ wrongful death lawsuit against the Village, they claimed it provided negligent supervision at the pool and that the lifeguards were negligent in their response to Park’s situation. The Village didn’t stand still, either. It filed a lawsuit against Park’s parents, as well as his teenaged friends and their parents, claiming they were negligent and responsible for Park’s death.

Ultimately, the Village’s claims were thrown out of court and, after nearly two years of legal wrangling and a month-long trial, a jury recently awarded $10 million to Park’s family. The jurors agreed that there was inadequate supervision at the pool. None of the nine or more lifeguards saw Park while he was struggling to stay above water. After Park’s mother alerted the lifeguards and the pool manager, the manager ordered the lifeguards to search for Park around the pool, not inside the pool. Lifeguards searched the parking lot for Park. Park was not removed from the water until 40 minutes after the manager and lifeguards were alerted

Wrongful death lawsuits have nothing to do with money. People who lose loved ones certainly know that no amount of money can bring their loved ones back. These suits are about making sure the people responsible for the deaths are held accountable. They’re also about making sure the same tragedy doesn’t happen again.

By David Baarlaer

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

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