Wrongful Death and Victim Intoxication

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the defense often tries to blame the victim. If death resulted from a car accident, for example, the negligent driver may try to argue that the decedent was also engaged in some reckless activity that contributed to his or her own death. Even if a jury believes the defendant was still negligent, it can apportion some of the fault to the victim and the court will adjust any damage awards accordingly. This is known as “comparative negligence.”

L.A. Court Orders Third Trial in Wrongful Death Case

Jurors are expected to weigh all of the evidence of comparative fault and render an impartial verdict. Unfortunately, jurors are human beings and occasionally inject their own prejudices into the proceedings. Recently, a state appeals court in Los Angeles ordered a new trial in a wrongful death case compromised by such juror prejudice.

This particular wrongful death lawsuit has a long and sad history. Early one morning in 2013, the defendant was driving through Palmdale, California, on the way to a co-worker’ house. He struck and killed the decedent, who was traveling on foot. The defendant later claimed that he did not immediately realize he hit a human being.

During the subsequent investigation, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner/Coroner’s Office determined the decedent had marijuana and alcohol in his system at the time of his death. In fact, the decedent’s blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.21%. This was nearly three times the legal limit for purposes of establishing drunk driving in California.

The decedent’s parents subsequently sued the defendant for wrongful death. The first trial ended in a mistrial. Following the second trial, a jury ruled the defendant was negligent. However, by a 9-3 vote, the jury also decided that the defendant’s negligence “was not a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s death,” and awarded zero damages to the parents.

After the trial ended, the parents moved for a new trial. They presented an affidavit from one of the jurors who said another juror “refused to deliberate.” According to the affidavit, this juror “stated that as soon as she heard the evidence that alcohol and marijuana were found in the Decedent’s system she made up her mind that she would not award anything to the Plaintiffs.” This evidence was introduced during the cross-examination of one of the plaintiff’s witnesses. In other words, this juror “made up her mind” before all the evidence was in.

That was misconduct, according to the California Second District Court of Appeal, which ordered a third trial. The juror’s statements clearly indicated “bias,” the appeals court said, and unfairly prejudiced the parents’ right to a fair trial. This bias was especially important given the vote on liability was 9-3, so a change in even a single vote could have yielded a different outcome.

Contact a California Wrongful Death Attorney

Wrongful death cases often raise complex factual and legal issues. It is critical that judges and juries address these issues as mandated by the law and not according to their own biases. An experienced Pasadena personal injury lawyer can help make sure the courts handle wrongful death claim in an appropriate manner. Contact Strassburg, Gilmore, & Wei, Attorneys at Law, if you have a catastrophic injury or wrongful death claim and need to speak with a lawyer today.

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