The family of a 46-year-old high school water polo coach filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district alleging that he would have survived had efforts to resuscitate him had continued. According to a news report in Patch.com, the coach for Diamond Bar High School's water polo team collapsed after practice on Jan. 12, 2016 in the school's parking lot. He died later from cardiac arrest at a local hospital His family filed the wrongful death lawsuit against the school district this month.
Allegation of Negligence
The lawsuit states that two other coaches at the school performed CPR on the decedent after he collapsed, but that they stopped their efforts in under a minute. The two other coaches have been named as co-defendants in the lawsuit as has the school's athletic director who told them to stop giving CPR before paramedics arrived. The coach's widow and his three children filed the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that the athletic director and the two coaches committed “gross negligence” because they had no reason to believe further CPR would not have helped revive the coach who was in distress. The high school's website states that the athletic director is a certified CPR and first-aid instructor.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims
Under California law, a wrongful death claim is one that arises when a person died as a result of negligence or a wrongful act committed by another person or entity. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit, which is brought to court often by the survivors of the deceased person such as a spouse, partner, children, etc., or by the personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
If the defendant is found at fault, they are found “liable” for damages, which means they pay monetary damages to the plaintiffs. So, a wrongful death lawsuit is different from a criminal murder case, which is brought by the state and where the “guilty” party is penalized with prison time and other penalties. While criminal cases may provide some financial restitution for families of deceased victims, they don't even come close to compensating these families for lost income, benefits or other financial losses.
There are limitations with regard to who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Some of the parties who can file such a lawsuit include the decedent's surviving spouse, a domestic partner, parents, siblings, a “putative” spouse or children of that spouse, stepchildren, or anyone who was financially dependent on the deceased individual at the time.
There are also a number of parties who can be sued in a wrongful death case. For example, if a person was killed in an auto accident due to the actions of a drunk or distracted driver, the at-fault motorist can be held liable for the decedent's death. If the negligence of a doctor or medical professional caused someone's death, the medical personnel in question and the hospital or medical facility could be held liable. In cases where a defective product causes the death, the manufacturer, retailer or wholesaler who marketed and/or sold the product could also be held accountable.
This is why it takes an experienced wrongful death attorney to carefully examine the case and determine whom to name as defendants in the case. A number of different parties may be involved and may have caused or contributed to the victim's death. Wrongful death cases most often stem from auto accidents, medical negligence, product defects, auto defects, workplace deaths, premises accidents, violent (criminal) acts, school or daycare deaths, swimming pool accidents and nursing home neglect or abuse.
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
When it comes to wrongful death lawsuits, like all personal injury claims, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs. There are four key elements when it comes to proving wrongful death claims and they are as follows:
- Negligence: The surviving members or their legal representatives must prove that the death of their loved one was caused by the reckless, careless or negligent actions of the defending party. Negligence could also mean that a person or entity failed to take necessary action to save the victim's life. An example would be when a doctor misdiagnoses a patient or when emergency personnel fail to take adequate steps to resuscitate a patient in distress.
- Breach of duty: In order to be successful with a wrongful death case, plaintiffs must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. For example, drivers in California have the duty to operate their vehicles carefully and to obey the rules of the road. Product manufacturers have a responsibility to make and sell products that are safe for consumers. The plaintiff must establish how the defendant's duty existed and how that duty was breached as a result of their negligent actions, or inaction.
- Causation: In addition to proving breach of duty, plaintiffs must also show how the defendant's negligence caused their loved one's death. So, if it's a distracted driving case, plaintiffs may have to gather evidence such as cell phone records to show that the defendant was distracted at the time of the fatal collision. In other words, plaintiffs must prove that the defendant's actions of lack of action directly caused the victim's death.
- Damages: The death of the victim must have generated damages that are quantifiable such as medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, loss of income, benefits, etc.
Why You Need a Skilled Lawyer
Proving a wrongful death lawsuit is often not straightforward. An experienced wrongful death attorney in California will not only be able to assess all your damages so you can receive maximum compensation for your losses, but also be able to gather all the necessary evidence to help convincingly prove your case. Even though a majority of wrongful death claims get settled out of court, a number of them also go to trial. So, it is important that you get an attorney on your side who is not only a skilled negotiator, but also a capable trial lawyer who has had success handling similar cases.