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Notable Wrongful Death Cases in California and the U.S. - The Larsen Firm

Notable Wrongful Death Cases in California and the U.S.

Unexpectedly losing a family member can turn your life upside down and leave you feeling lost and defeated. A wrongful death lawsuit can help you regain control, hold someone accountable, and secure compensation for your losses.

The compassionate professionals at The Larsen Firm have recovered $1 billion for our clients in our 40 years in practice. Our results in wrongful death lawsuit cases range from $500,000 to $13.6 million. Although every case is different, close family members can typically recover:

  • Economic losses associated with the loved one’s death, like loss of income and financial contributions based on life expectancy; and
  • Non-financial losses like the loss of love, affection, companionship, comfort, care, or protection. 

Consider the losses you and your family have experienced as a result of someone’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional act. Your losses are unique, so it is not helpful to know the average or typical wrongful death settlement. Instead, we will provide some examples of wrongful death cases on this page. In fact, we will discuss some of the most notable wrongful death cases in the U.S. and California. This list can give you an idea of the wrongful death settlements and verdicts handled by our firm. Then, give us a call and let us guide you through your options.

Highest Wrongful Death Payout

One of the highest wrongful death payouts involved the murder of Tyler Thomas, a 19-year-old Peru State College student in Peru, Nebraska. She disappeared in December 2010, and a court declared her dead in 2013. Her family sued fellow student Joshua Keadle, the last person to see her alive, for wrongful death. The case went to trial in 2016. When Keadle declined to appear, the jury awarded the family $240 million in compensatory damages and $2.4 billion in punitive damages.

This case illustrates the difference between civil and criminal cases. It is easier for a family to hold a wrongdoer responsible through a wrongful death case than through a criminal conviction because of the lower burden of proof. It took prosecutors an additional four years to find the evidence for a criminal conviction after her family received the verdict in their civil case. In 2020, Keadle was convicted and sentenced to 71 years in prison for Thomas’ murder. 

Unfortunately, this also illustrates the downside to suing an individual. Because Keadle is in prison, Thomas’ family is unlikely to receive any of the money awarded in the wrongful death case. However, the family has said they still feel a sense of justice and closure from obtaining a court order declaring responsibility for their daughter’s murder.

Famous Wrongful Death Cases

You might recognize these famous wrongful death cases from the news or popular culture. Even famous people and large corporations have a duty to act with reasonable care and avoid harming others.

The OJ Simpson Civil Trial

The O.J. Simpson civil trial is a very well-known wrongful death case. In 1995, a jury acquitted Simpson of the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. However, when the families sued Simpson for wrongful death, a jury awarded them $33.5 million in compensatory damages. So, in this case, we have a criminal jury that acquitted O.J. because they felt the prosecution had not proved their case beyond all reasonable doubt. But a civil jury found that the plaintiffs proved their case for wrongful death by the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard—based on the same incident. This dichotomy illustrates the lower evidentiary standard needed for a civil verdict as compared to a criminal conviction.

The Ford Motor Pinto Case

During the 1970s, Ford Motor Company produced a model known as the Pinto. Once the Pinto began traveling America’s roads, it became clear that its rear-facing fuel tank posed a danger of explosion even in the smallest rear-end collision. One woman, Lilly Gray, was struck from behind at 30 miles per hour, and the tank of her Pinto exploded, burning her and her 13-year-old passenger. Gray was killed in the accident, and her family successfully sued Ford Motor, alleging that they knew the risk of explosion yet proceeded with its manufacture and sale. The jury awarded her family $559,680 in damages for their injuries. The passenger and his family were awarded $2.516 million. Also, the award included $125 million in punitive damages for Ford’s egregious misconduct.

Largest Wrongful Death Settlements 

Here is a sample of the results secured in California wrongful death cases.

Walnut Creek Gas Pipeline Explosion Cases

The largest settlement or verdict for wrongful death in the history of Contra Costa County was an award of $10.65 million for the family of a construction foreman. In 2004, our client worked for MCI Inc on a water pipeline install for EBMUD in Walnut Creek, California. A backhoe punctured an underground fuel pipeline, resulting in an explosion and fireball that burned for nearly a week. The explosion killed five workers, seriously injured several others, and damaged property and equipment. Ultimately, over $90 million dollars was paid by several defendants, including EBMUD.

Multi-Million Dollar Settlement Against the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni)

In 2008, cyclist David Wheeler was hit and killed by a Muni bus near Ocean Beach in San Francisco. The company offered Wheeler’s family a $5.36 million settlement when evidence showed the bus operator neglected to stop before turning left, failed to use his blinker, sped up, and used a particularly tight turning radius—all of which contributed to the accident. In addition to the settlement offered to Wheeler’s family, Muni has paid $21 million to the family of Humberto and Lopez Dominguez, $4.25 million to Gavin Lum’s surviving family, and others.

The Larsen Firm: Generating Notable Wrongful Death Case Results for Our Clients

We meet our clients when they are hurt, injured, and at their worst. If you are injured, we make it our job to help you find justice and get your life back on track. If your family has recently lost a loved one at the fault of another, let us help. Don’t be afraid to call and come speak with us because we offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. You deserve to recover after the loss of your loved one, and the experienced wrongful death attorneys at The Larsen Firm will fight for you.

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