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Wrongful Death

G.M. Is Told to Pay As Result of Death

August.14. 2012

General Motors Corporation was ordered by a jury to pay $33 million to Robert and Constance McGee, whose 13-year-old son, Shane, was burned to death in their 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser after a gasoline tank fire. The jury agreed with the allegations set forth by the boy’s parents, who claimed that the absence of a protective shield over the gas tank made their vehicle a potentially explosive lethal hazard.

The McGees alleged that GM knew for more than two decades about the defects and that it failed to act to protect the safety of drivers. It was later revealed that GM engineers did in fact perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it would be worth the expense for the company to invest in fuel shields for certain vehicles with rear-mounted gas tanks.

The boy’s parents received $60 million in damages for the wrongful death of their son. No punitive damages were levied against GM.

$7 Million for Grieving Family

A young girl’s mother brought her to the doctor. The mother knew that something was wrong. Her pediatrician suspected a brain tumor and ordered a CT scan of the brain. Her HMO overruled that decision and denied the CT scan. The HMO had set up a pre-approval process that required HMO doctors to approve any requests for CT scans. The HMO intended to reduce the amount of money spent on CT scans and similar diagnostic tests. The HMO sent a letter saying the test was not needed. Several months later, the little girl collapsed and died.

John Uustal, who represented the family, moved the Court for an order allowing a claim for “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are intended to punish intentional misconduct. The Court granted the motion and allowed the family to assert a claim for punitive damages.

The family settled with the HMO and other defendants prior to trial. The HMO no longer requires pre-approval by the HMO for CT scans.

Jurors See Shooting Videotape

August.14. 2010

In the Broward Circuit courtroom of Judge J. Cail Lee, a panel of six jurors viewed a videotape of the 1985 shooting death of 47-year-old Herber Harris III. The video showed a member of the Broward Sheriff´s Office SWAT team approaching Harris´ home. Moments later, there was a gunshot, and the video showed the dying man take his last breaths on his kitchen floor.

Seven weeks prior, a team of deputies, including Hoffman, found several loaded weapons in a search of his house and charged Harris with trafficking cocaine.

Harris died from a shotgun blast to his back. In 1986, a county grand jury determined that the officer who shot him, Deputy Joseph Hoffman, would not be held responsible because he thought Harris was running into his house to retrieve a gun.

Herber’s wife, Janice Harris, filed suit against Hoffman and Sheriff Nick Navarro, alleging that Hoffman was guilty of gross negligence and that the Sheriff’s office was negligent in hiring him. She additionally charged them with violating her husband’s right to protection from unwarranted search and seizure.

After investigating the case, Harris´ attorney, Robert Kelley of Kelley/Uustal, showed that Hoffman received pre-employment psychological evaluation twice in 1979. The tests revealed that Hoffman had great difficulty with impulse control, a great amount of repressed anger, and a tendency to “lash out at people.” The company responsible for overseeing the tests concluded that Hoffman was not recommended for service with the Plantation Police Department, but could be allowed to work for the Sheriff’s Office providing he underwent psychotherapy. This condition was never met.

Two pictures of Hoffman emerged in opening arguments: one of a volatile and emotionally unstable policeman, another of a much-decorated, competent officer.

In light of this evidence that Hoffman was an emotional unstable and volatile person, Hoffman and Navarro’s attorney, Bruce Jolly, maintained that Hoffman was “as a highly skilled, highly motivated sophisticated, controlled and controllable police officer.”

Lt. Robert Freeman accompanied the SWAT team in the final, fatal search to videotape the raid for training purposes. When Hoffman saw Harris in the backyard, he could be heard shouting in the video: “Hold it. Freeze.” immediately followed by a gunshot. As Harris lay mortally wounded and gasping for air, Hoffman was heard saying, “Look, it don’t look too good for you. Do you want to make a statement?”

Harris died soon afterwards. After a lengthy legal battle, the jury ruled in favor of Harris’ survivors.

North Broward Hospital District Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit

October.21. 2013

The North Broward Hospital District settled a medical malpractice lawsuit after losing its defenses due to discovery violations about the death of a Fort Lauderdale attorney’s father.

The North Broward Hospital District settled a wrongful death lawsuit after a trial judge sanctioned the hospital operator for gross discovery violations by throwing out its defenses during jury selection.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Robert W. Kelley of Kelley Uustal filed suit almost five years ago on behalf of his mother, Mary Kelley, in the death of his father, the Rev. Robert P. Kelley. Terms of the settlement reached Wednesday were confidential.

Kelley’s late father suffered a knee fracture and was discharged from Broward General Medical Center in November 2008. The lawsuit which also alleged medical malpractice claimed he was sent home without a required blood thinner and soon after died from blood clots that caused an embolism.

“North Broward Hospital District failed to disclose material information to the plaintiff regarding this incident. The defendant failed to disclose the results of its internal investigation … and failed to disclose that peer review proceedings were under way with respect to Dr. Matthew Wells and the Broward General Medical Center nursing staff,” Circuit Judge Carlos Rodriguez said Tuesday in an order granting a motion to strike the hospital’s pleadings.

It was not until Rodriguez conducted a two-day evidentiary hearing after starting jury selection a week ago that the documents the hospital had for years denied existed came to light, Kelley said.

Wells, who was accused of being the most responsible of the three physicians sued in Kelley’s death, settled the week before trial confidentially.

Rodriguez noted withholding material information adversely affected the plaintiff’s case because Kelley was preparing for trial under an erroneous theory.

He was given the impression there was a miscommunication between Wells and the nursing staff. It turned out Wells did not order the blood thinner Arixtra be dispensed for Kelley’s father because he was taking aspirin.

Just before Rodriguez threw out the hospital’s case, the public hospital district tried to add Wells and another doctor who settled as Fabre defendants.

In turn, Kelley alleged a conspiracy to avoid liability by shifting blame to Wells after he settled. Had Kelley known the extent of Wells’ potential liability, he said he would not have settled for what he did.

Rodriguez said a conspiracy would be very hard to prove, but the number of alleged mistakes “lead the court to conclude this was no mistake but a willful, intentional attempt to conceal the information constitutionally required and discovery required to be disclosed: compartmentalizing the information in the claim file and quality assurance department, and then not asking those departments for the information is hiding the ball.”

Hospital attorney Jonathan P. Lynn of Chimpoulis, Hunter & Lynn in Davie, said, “The judge’s conclusions seem exceedingly harsh and unfairly critical of hardworking and dedicated employees of the district and the hospital.”

He said there was no evidence the defendants knowingly withheld information, but the sanctions “left us with virtually no alternative but to negotiate a settlement.”

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