Our prayers are with the family of Robert Lavender III (29 years old) who was killed in a motorcycle accident on June 21 in Orange County. Mr. Lavender was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle when a 39-year old woman Deanna Marie Soto, driving a Nissan Sentra, turned left in front of Mr. Lavender. Mr. Lavender's motorcycle struck Ms. Soto's vehicle at the right rear corner.
The Orange County coroner pronounced Mr. Lavender dead at the scene. Ms. Soto complained of pain, and she was taken to a nearby hospital along with one of the other occupants in the Nissan Sentra. She was charged with suspicion of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter.
Is a Wrongful Death Claim Possible in This Case?
If reports are correct and other requirements are fulfilled, yes. It appears that the family of Mr. Lavender may be able to pursue an Orange County wrongful death claim against the driver of the other vehicle. California Civil Code 1708 states, “Every person is bound, without contract, to abstain from injuring the person or property of another, or infringing upon any of his rights.” If Mr. Lavender is married, his spouse has priority to file a wrongful death claim in California. Otherwise, the right to file a wrongful death claim would fall to his children, parents, and siblings.
There are four main elements in a typical wrongful death claim, and this unfortunate situation appears to fulfill each of the elements. It is important to note that Ms. Soto is simply charged with suspicion of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. It is a matter for the courts to decide if she is innocent or guilty.
We are simply using the apparent facts reported by news agencies to draw conclusions as to whether or not this family may have a wrongful death claim. Nothing herein should be construed as an affirmation of Ms. Soto's guilt or innocence.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Action
- The death of the family member was caused by the actions of the defendant. In this case, Ms. Soto turning left in front of Mr. Lavender allegedly caused the accident that resulted in his death.
- The defendant was negligent, careless, or reckless in some manner that caused the death of the family member. Ms. Soto is alleged to be driving while intoxicated. This would be considered negligent, careless, and reckless behavior on her part. Furthermore, it may be proven that she illegally turned in front of Mr. Lavender thereby causing the accident by failing to yield the right of way. This may also be considered to be careless and reckless.
- There are surviving dependents or beneficiaries of the plaintiff such as a spouse and/or children or other living relatives who are qualified to bring a wrongful death action under California state law. Without knowing whether Mr. Lavender has a wife or children, it is difficult to answer this question completely; however, in most cases, there is a qualified family member who may bring a wrongful death action.
- The surviving dependents or beneficiaries have suffered monetary damages as the result of the family member's death. Funeral expenses and the loss of income would be two ways that Mr. Lavender's family has suffered monetary damages as the result of his untimely death.
Of the three categories of wrongful death actions, this situation seems to fall into two of those categories.
- Negligence – While Ms. Soto did not intentionally set out to kill Mr. Lavender, the reported specifics imply that the accident may have been a result of her careless and reckless behavior. The fact that she is alleged to be driving while intoxicated and that she failed to yield the right of way are both examples of careless and reckless acts that are negligent.
- Intentional – If it is proven that Ms. Soto was in fact intoxicated at the time of the accident, an attorney may try to show that Ms. Soto should have known driving under the influence would result in the injury or death of another person but she willfully and recklessly disregard the safety of others when she chose to drive while intoxicated.
What would a wrongful death claim do for the victim's family?
No amount of money will ever replace the loss of a loved one; however, a monetary award can help ease the financial burden placed on the family. When a spouse is killed due to the negligent acts of another party, the surviving spouse is left with the financial responsibility of providing for the family. Funeral costs can be staggering especially if the family does not have life insurance or the life insurance proceeds are not sufficient to pay all of the funeral expenses.
After the funeral, the surviving spouse must try to provide for his or her family without the benefit of his or her partner's income. Receiving a monetary award from a wrongful death action can help this family survive financially as the family members try to rebuild their lives without their loved one. A wrongful death claim can also help a family find closure as the family struggles to deal with the pain and the anger over the death of the loved one.
Where Can Families Get Help?
If you have lost someone due to the negligent, reckless, or careless acts of another, you are not alone. Experienced wrongful death attorneys are here to help you piece together your life by holding the person or persons responsible for your loss accountable for their actions. Because wrongful death claims are complex, you need an attorney who has experience litigating wrongful death claims to guide you through the process and protect your rights within the justice system.
In addition to seeking a monetary award for the wrongful death of your loved one, bringing a wrongful death action may prevent other families from suffering as you are by discouraging the type of behavior that caused the death of your family member.
In addition to consulting with an attorney, families who have lost a family member can seek counseling and support from several groups and agencies in Orange County. You can find a list of bereavement support groups on the Network of Care website as well as the Fairhaven Grief Blog.
Those in need of legal counsel are encouraged to contact our Orange County motorcycle accident attorneys for a free case evaluation. Call (800) 838-6644 today to obtain a free consultation from attornies at Timothy J. Ryan and Associates. Their experience can help get you and your family on the right track.