It’s a tumultuous time for the application of wrongful death law. Between police reform, health and safety lapses, COVID, and cold case revivals, cases are rising – the CDC has reported a jump of 52.7 for every 100,000 in unintentional work deaths alone. It’s an interesting, if tough, time to be a lawyer, and it’s hard to make sense of exactly where the law is traveling. Wrongful death can be a good way for families to receive emotional and financial restitution in situations where a case does not meet the bar of the law – rightly or wrongly. However, there is also an argument that wrongful death can be abused to take attention away from potential indictments. A good place to start looking at how the law if being applied is in Texas, where one notable case is making waves.
Wrongful Death In Houston
Texas news outlet Houma Today has noted the recent work of a Houston wrongful death law firm in the case of a botched 2019 police raid. What’s notable here is the level of scrutiny being allowed at the local and state level; it’s arguable that, without reforms and a new focus on policing throughout 2020, this might never have taken off. While work is ongoing, it gives a serious nod to the law regarding police-related deaths and the potential for new litigation in this field, something promising.
Movement in this area is further evidenced by the ongoing litigation concerning police involved with the Major Cities Chiefs Association. A report by Al Jazeera highlights how police officers are starting to accept cases that push past the ‘qualified immunity’ principle where conduct is not ‘objectively reasonable’. This shows a push for real equality in how police officers are treated when their actions, in power, cause death and could indicate a promising change in a wider range of fields. By contract, the medical industry appears to be regressing.
Medical negligence and malpractice laws are in place to help patients, or families of the bereaved, take cases where they believe the treatment hasn’t been ideal. 2020 saw this principle called into question with the advent of the global pandemic. It’s generally accepted that protections are needed for doctors over COVID, given the rapid level of research being conducted into care for the condition and the risk that creates; it’s not fair to judge physicians on the work they are doing when they’re trying their best with limited knowledge and resources.
However, Reuters has highlighted the changing of a law concerning nursing homes that has slowed the progress of COVID wrongful death cases within their walls. This will make it more difficult to litigate against care homes that didn’t take full duty of care and is an area of controversy for lawmakers. Care homes have, sadly, been the location of some of the most troubling wrongful death cases in the country; USA Today highlighted this in the Granite Creek, AZ cases. These changes are filtering back down into the home.
More time is being spent in the home than ever before as a result of the pandemic, and that has created a glut of new cases regarding home safety. The New York Times reported that IKEA would pay $46 million in damages to one family affected by the death of their child owing to faulty furniture, and more cases of this ilk are coming to the fore.
Homes are truly being tested to their capacity, and the interface between manufacturers and homeowners, and who takes liability, will be an interesting area of litigation. The home is often a difficult place to litigate with regard to; except in the case of obviously defective products. Whereas workplaces and public spaces take responsibility for the safety of people within them, the home is entirely within the remit of the homeowner. Expanding where and how wrongful death can be applied, as it has been with IKEA, is an intriguing new avenue that’s bringing wrongful death to the fore in media terms.
A High Profile
The principle of wrongful death and its application is seeing renewed interest in the Alex Murdaugh case. Multiple news outlets have covered proceedings concerning the former attorney and the death of a housekeeper resulting in a $500,000 wrongful death settlement. An incredibly high profile case given the fame of the individual involved, this has shone new light onto how wrongful death is used – and sometimes abused.
While the application in this specific case is being called into question, it still provides an important avenue for financial and emotional redress for families that have suffered as a result of the premature death of a loved one. The hope is that the application of this law, and the extent to which it detracts from potential criminal filings, can be observed and assessed in more detail to help the new generation.
Societal norms are being flipped over – and it’s now hard to see exactly where wrongful death does, or doesn’t, apply. Legal experts will find a challenging if the perhaps interesting field to move into. It’ll remain that way until the country has found a way to recalibrate and process the various controversies of the past two years that have shaped the modern legal field. As long as wrongful death keeps finding a primary place in the news agendas and legal discourse, there’ll be a debate to be had.