Pennsylvania Family Receives Wrongful Death Verdict on Behalf of 6-Year-Old Boy
After a lengthy legal battle, a jury in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania decided in favor of a family who filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their 6-year-old boy, who was the victim of a fatal car accident in Pittsburgh in 2012.
The accident in question occurred on May 1, 2012, while Thomas Straw, his wife, Jennifer, and their two sons, Elijah and Rowan, were traveling in the family’s Pontiac Vibe on Route 28 in Pittsburgh. The hood of the Pontiac suddenly came unhinged, opening up to block Thomas’s view of the roadway. He stopped immediately in the center lane of the highway in order to secure it again.
At the same time, Kirk Fair was driving his company’s Ford F-250 pickup truck, and according to court records, he had momentarily become distracted by paperwork that had fallen on the floor of the vehicle. Ultimately, the Ford rear-ended the Pontiac, leaving each of the Straw’s with injuries and tragically claiming the life of young Elijah.
Specifically, both Thomas and Jennifer Straw sustained concussions, lumbar spine fractures, bruises, lacerations and abrasions, and Rowan suffered multiple seizures after the collision. In addition, the Straws each had lingering mental-health issues after the accident, including Thomas, who was diagnosed with severe depressive disorder.
As for Fair, an investigation revealed that he was previously charged with driving under the influence in 1996 and 2008, with a conviction for DUI in 2008 that resulted in the suspension of his driving privileges. Although he denied being under the influence after the accident with the Straws, he failed three field sobriety tests and refused to submit to a comprehensive exam by a Drug Recognition Expert who was called to the scene. Fair later disclosed that he had taken the prescription medication Suboxone the previous evening.
Ultimately, Fair was charged criminally and he pleaded guilty to charges including vehicular homicide, aggravated assault by auto, and recklessly endangering another person. He was sentenced to six to serve 23 months in prison, after which he will be on probation for 10 years.
In civil court, the Straws then filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of 6-year-old Elijah. A 6-day trial, followed by a 2-hour jury deliberation, resulted in the recent verdict, in which a 12-member jury unanimously awarded $32 million to the Straws. The award included $10 million for a wrongful death claim, $10 million for a survival claim, $3 million each for Thomas and Jennifer Straw, and $6 million for Rowan Straw. The award included $4.5 million for Elijah’s lost income, $5.5 million for his conscious pain and suffering, $7 million for past lost services, and $3 million for future lost services.
Overall, this case illustrates the often difficult process of valuing a tragedy such as a lost child. Both personal injury claims and wrongful death claims may take into account a host of factors that fall within the category of “damages.” For example, under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act, “loss of services” encompasses far more than just “household activities,” including emotional and psychological suffering incurred as a result of the decedent’s death.
The Pennsylvania Standard Jury Instructions indicate that all of the following may be considered when awarding wrongful death damages: medical and hospital bills, funeral and burial expenses, estate administration costs, the loss of any contributions that would have been made between the person’s death and the date of the award (including cost of food, shelter, clothing, medical care and education), the sum of all of the decedent’s contributions to support his or her family that would have been made between the date of the award and the end of his or her life expectancy; and an appropriate monetary sum that would compensate for the services, society, and comfort the decedent would have provided to his or her family had he or she lived.
When representing the loved ones of a victim, it is incredibly important to adequately illustrate the nature and extent of their loss. As such, an experienced attorney can prove an integral asset during the litigation process, ensuring that survivors obtain the compensation they deserve.
For additional information related to this case, access the following article: Allegheny Jury Awards $32M in Wrongful-Death Case