Each year in New Hampshire, loved ones are lost to preventable deaths. Whether from a drunk driver, medical malpractice, or a workplace error, there are many situations where a life is lost through no fault of their own. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that unintentional injury deaths were the third leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in over 200,000 deaths each year.
A wrongful death is defined as a death caused by the “negligent, reckless, or intentional” actions of another party. To prove a wrongful death, you must prove that the guilty party had a responsibility or “duty of care” towards the deceased that they failed to uphold, resulting in the fatality. But what is considered negligent or reckless and what is just an unfortunate accident?
Examples can help to bring clarity to a definition. Here are some common scenarios that constitute a wrongful death in the state of New Hampshire.
Five Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims
1. Vehicle accidents
The general category of vehicle accidents represents the most common cause of wrongful deaths and covers a wide variety of situations. Breaking down the category into three smaller sub-categories helps us consider the different kinds of vehicles that can be involved.
- Car/Trucking/Motorcycle accidents. Car, commercial trucking, and motorcycle accidents constitute the majority of wrongful death vehicle accidents, and all involve motorized vehicles operating on roadways. The size of commercial trucks and the unprotected nature of motorcycles make both of these more prone to accidents that involve fatalities.
- Pedestrian/Bicycle accidents. Pedestrian and bicycle accidents typically happen around roadways in the same way that car, trucking, and motorcycle accidents do, but these involve an unprotected party on a non-motorized vehicle, making them even more susceptible to injury when a passing vehicle is involved.
- ATVs/Snowmobiles/Boats. This category is comprised of recreational motorized vehicles that operate off-road and may be even more susceptible to potential operator carelessness due to their recreational function.
Not every vehicle accident fatality is a wrongful death, only those where the “negligent, reckless, or intentional” acts of someone else were to blame. Some examples of those would include:
- Aggressive/reckless driving
- Driving to endanger
- Excessive speeding
- Drunk driver/OUI
- Texting/distracted driving
- Driver error (e.g. failure to signal)
In 2008, a 38-year-old New Hampshire man was killed by a tractor trailer while biking on a rural Maine road. The tractor trailer attempted to pass the cyclist while going around a corner, then swerved back when an approaching car appeared, causing the cyclist to lose control and fall into the road where he was run over by the truck’s rear tires, killing him instantly. A wrongful death lawsuit was brought against the truck driver, and the jury awarded $8.5 million to the widow and children of the victim.
2. Medical Malpractice
Another common cause of wrongful death is medical malpractice. Medical wrongful death lawsuits cover many different medical errors or incidents of negligence, such as a delayed cancer diagnosis, hospital negligence, or a medication dosing error. Some examples of medical malpractice wrongful death are:
- Medication errors and overdoses
- Surgical errors
- Defective medical devices or medications
- Misdiagnosis/failure to diagnose
- Delayed or incorrect treatment
- Nursing home or hospital negligence
- Childbirth fatality
- Negligence by understaffing
In 2016, an 82-year-old woman in a Meredith, New Hampshire nursing home died after being assaulted by an 87-year-old male resident with Alzheimer’s disease. Though the man was not charged in the homicide, a wrongful death lawsuit for medical negligence was filed against the nursing home. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
3. Workplace Accidents
When we think of workplace accidents, we may think of injured backs or carpal tunnel pain, but sometimes accidents in the workplace can be fatal. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment for their employees, so when a fatality occurs because of faulty machinery or lack of safety protocols, the employer can be held liable. Some industries are more dangerous because of the nature of their work. Construction, manufacturing, transportation, mining, railroad, and shipyard jobs all happen around large, heavy machinery that carries risk. Common wrongful death accidents in the workplace include:
In 2011, a 19-year-old man was working at a scrap metal recycling plant in Atlanta, Georgia when the front end loader he was operating caught fire, resulting in fatal burn injuries. An investigation discovered that the fire was a result of sparks from his loader igniting spilled gasoline from a machine used to drain gas tanks from scrap cars. A wrongful death lawsuit was brought against the company, and the jury found the employer guilty of negligent design and failure to warn. Damages of $21 million were awarded to the man’s estate for wrongful death and $8.25 million to the man’s parents for pain and suffering.
4. Defective Products
Product defects can fall into one of three categories: manufacturing defects, design defects, and labeling defects (also known as “failure to warn”). Manufacturers must ensure that their designs are safe, that their products are being manufactured to the design specifications, and that any potential hazards (such as choking, fire, or electrocution risks) are very clearly labeled. Wrongful deaths caused by defective products may involve:
- Vehicle defects (brakes, tires, airbags, or seatbelts)
- Children’s products (car seats, cribs, toys)
- Electronic devices
- Industrial equipment
- Propane and natural gas appliances
- Unanchored furniture
- Toxic food
In May of 2017, a California couple lost their 2-year-old son when he sustained fatal injuries from a dresser falling on top of him. The manufacturer of the dresser, Ikea, was aware that the design was unstable and issued a recall after five other children had been killed by of the same dresser. A $46 million settlement was reached in their wrongful death suit.
5. Criminal Activity
In addition to negligence and recklessness, intentional actions resulting in death are also considered wrongful death in New Hampshire. If the death was the result of a crime, then a wrongful death claim may be filed in civil court while the criminal case is being tried in criminal court. A wrongful death civil suit may be brought against the perpetrator if the deceased was a victim of:
- Murder (capital, first, or second degree)
- Negligent homicide
In 1994, O.J. Simpson made headlines when he was charged with murder for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Though Simpson was acquitted of the criminal charges, he was found responsible for the deaths in a later wrongful death lawsuit brought about by the families of Brown and Goldman, who were awarded a combined $33.5 million in damages.
Discuss Your Case with a New Hampshire Wrongful Death Attorney
If you are looking for more information about a wrongful death lawsuit in New Hampshire, get in touch with a New Hampshire wrongful death attorney today to discuss your case. The attorneys at Ward Law Group, PLLC are experienced in Personal Injury and wrongful death law and know how to help you achieve a favorable case outcome. We are here to fight for you.