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PA & WV Accidental Death Lawyer Blog

This blog focuses on the law in Pennsylvania and West Virginia (and other practical issues that arise) when a family member or friend is unfortunately lost due to an accidental death.

  • U.S. Government Data on Work Deaths for 2014

    While doing research, I recently ran across U.S. government data on fatal work injuries for 2014 and found some alarming numbers.  The data came from the “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2014,” which was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released on September 17, 2015.  The data is a preliminary summary.  Below is some of the data for accidental and wrongful deaths at work for 2014:

    •  There were a total of 4,679 work injuries resulting in death, which was an increase of 2% over 2013.
    • There was a 17% increase in mining deaths, which is troubling, especially since my father, maternal grandfather, and many great-uncles were coal miners in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
    • There were 142 worker deaths in oil and gas extraction, which would include deaths while working in the nearby Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale.
    • There was a 17% increase in work-related construction deaths in 2014 as compared to 2013.  The number of deaths in the construction industry was 874, which was the highest total since 2008.
    •  The number of deaths from falls, slips, and trips increased to 793 in 2014.  There were 724 deaths from falls, slips, and trips in 2013.  Falls to lower level accounted for 647 of the deaths.  The summary does not specify whether the falls were the result of a failure of fall protection.
    • There were 1,891 transportation deaths in 2014, which accounted for 40% of all fatal workplace injuries.  Further, 57% of of the transportation deaths pertained to roadway incidents.  There were 725 heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers who died in 2014.

    Let’s hope the data for 2015 shows a different trend for accidental and wrongful deaths at work.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  This includes lawsuits involving oil and gas injuries and deaths; construction injuries and deaths; injuries and deaths from a failure of fall protection; injuries and deaths on towboats and the rivers, such as the Allegheny River, Ohio River, Monongahela River, and Kanawha River; Jones Act injuries and deaths; FELA injuries and deaths, and other transportation injuries and deaths on the roadways from tractor-trailers and dump trucks.  If you have questions about the above, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding an accidental or wrongful death or a survival action, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

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  • Motorhome Wrongful Death Case Will Proceed to Trial

    Like many people in Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2011, John Borzik decided to perform maintenance work on a motorhome he owned.  While trying to find the source of an antifreeze leak, Mr. Borzik positioned himself under his motorhome on his back near the right side rear axle.  During the maintenance work, the frame of the motorhome dropped onto Mr. Borzik’s head and chest.  He tried using his cellphone to call for help but tragically died from asphyxiation.  A Pennsylvania State Trooper performed an investigation and found that the motorhome “had a faulty pressure release valve that serviced the air suspension system.”

    Later, Mr. Borzik’s sister, who served as the personal representative and plaintiff, filed a wrongful death and survival action lawsuit against several defendants.  Rapchak v. Haldex Brake Products Corp., U.S. Dist. Ct. W.D. of Pa.; Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-1307.  After discovery, the only claim that remained was a products liability claim against the manufacturer (Haldex Brake Products Corp.) of the height control valve, which had been used in the air suspension system of the motorhome.  The manufacturer recently filed a motion to exclude the opinion of plaintiff’s expert that a screen filter would have prevented debris from entering into the height control valve and thereby would have prevented the valve from sticking open and releasing air.  The manufacturer also asked the court to find in its favor on a motion for summary judgment, which would result in the claims against the manufacturer being dismissed and the case being closed.

    On March 16, 2016, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, denied both motions filed by the manufacturer.  Rapchak v. Haldex Brake Products Corp., 2016 WL 1019534 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 15, 2016).  The court found that the expert used a reliable methodology in reaching his opinion regarding the height control valve in causing the accidental death.  The court also found that there were issues of material fact regarding whether the height control valve was in a defective condition.  Therefore, the court concluded a jury must decide whether the height control valve was defective and caused the wrongful death of Mr. Borzik.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about the above, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding an accidental or wrongful death or a survival action, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

     

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  • Commonwealth Court of Pennsyvania Finds it was for the Jury to Decide Whether Municipalities had Notice of a Dangerous Condition of a Road and Could Have Used Traffic Devices to Prevent a Fatal Accident

    In certain circumstances, a vehicular death can be avoided through the state or municipalities installing traffic devices to make a road less dangerous.  In Angell v. Dereno, 2016 WL 913139 at *1 (Pa. Cmwlth. Mar. 10, 2016), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania addressed whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment (this is a finding by the trial court that there are no issues for a jury to decide) to Ross Township and West View Borough (“Ross and West View”) in a wrongful death action where the mother sought to recover damages for the accidental death of her son, which occurred when the son’s motorcycle was clipped by an oncoming truck on a road near the boundary of Ross and West View.  At the time of the accident, the son was heading down a hill and the truck was heading up the same hill, which had a limited sight distance.  The mother argued the road was dangerous where the accident occurred and that Ross and West View had notice of the dangerous condition.

    In reversing the trial court, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania found that it was for the jury to decide whether Ross and West View had notice of the dangerous condition of the road and whether the danger could have been addressed with Ross and West View installing traffic control devices.  In fact, the mother’s expert, Dr. Ronald Eck, recommended warning signs that stated “Limited Sight Distance” and “Danger Blind Hill Slow”.  He also recommended that a stop sign should have been installed, which would have prevented the accident.   Thus, a jury will decide whether Ross and West View were negligent.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about the above, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

     

     

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  • Court Approval of Settlements in Wrongful Death Actions in Pennsylvania

    In our experience, family members of someone who has died due to the fault of others, only recover the full value for their claims by filing a lawsuit, and certainly by consulting and working closely with a lawyer.  Fortunately, most civil lawsuits are able to be resolved, or settled, before trial, although sometimes a trial is necessary.

    In Pennsylvania, there are formal steps the lawyer representing the family of a wrongful death victim must follow to ensure the finality of a wrongful death case settlement.  In general, settlements in wrongful death cases filed in Common Pleas Courts in Pennsylvania must be approved by a judge, sometimes by judges in two divisions of the Court.  Rule 2206 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules of the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the lawsuit has been filed are the starting points for this court-approval process.

    In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, when a party seeks to have a settlement of a wrongful death case approved, including the share of the settlement proceeds to which each wrongful death beneficiary will receive, the party’s lawyer must present a formal and detailed petition to the Calendar Control Judge of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas.  This procedure is discussed in Allegheny County Local Civil Rule 2206.

    When a minor or incapacitated person is a wrongful death beneficiary, the lawyer representing the family must first present the settlement approval petition to the Administrative Judge of the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas.  Once the Administrative Judge of the Orphans’ Court Division has approved the petition, the family’s lawyer must then present the settlement approval petition to the Calendar Control Judge of the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas.

    In addition to following the local rules of the Court of Common Pleas in the Pennsylvania county where the wrongful death lawsuit has been filed, the family’s lawyer must also follow the requirements of Rule 2206 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.  Rule 2206, entitled, “Settlement, Compromise, Discontinuance and Judgment,” sets forth requirements for settling or compromising a wrongful death action and also specifically discusses the additional requirements when there is a structured settlement or there is no guardian for the incapacitated person or minor.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about the above, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

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  • Triathlete’s Widow Can Maintain Wrongful Death Action Against Organizer Despite Triathlete Executing Waiver and Release Form

    Following its prior decision in Pisano v. Extendicare Homes, Inc., 77 A.3d 651 (Pa. Super. 2013), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found in Valentino v. Philadelphia Triathlon, LLC, 2015 WL 9630456, *10 (Pa. Super. Dec. 30, 2015), that a triathlete’s widow could maintain a wrongful death action despite the triathlete executing a waiver and release form.

    As with other races, such as marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, etc., the triathlete was required to register for the event.  The registration required the triathlete to pay a fee and execute a waiver and release form.

    The triathlete started the swimming portion of the race, but he failed to complete it.  Sadly, his body was found the next day in the Schuylkill River.

    After the widow filed a wrongful death action, the organizer of the triathlon sought summary judgment on the wrongful death action claiming the waiver and release form barred the lawsuit.  The trial court agreed with the organizer.  Nevertheless, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed the trial court and concluded that based on Pisanso, the release did not bar the wrongful death action in Pennsylvania as it is an independent cause of action and “is not derivative of the decedent’s rights at [the] time of death.”  Id.

    Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, brings lawsuits for wrongful death and survival in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights regarding accidental or wrongful death or survival, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or info@golawllc.com.  Our website is www.golawllc.com.

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