What You Should Know About Wrongful Death Lawsuits

In August 2023, the Sacramento Bee published a news report about two San Diego men pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department in federal court. The case involved the March 2022 death of their father while incarcerated in the San Diego Central Jail. According to court documents, Lonnie Rupard had been in custody for three months after being arrested for a parole violation. The medical examiner’s report indicates that he died from pneumonia, dehydration, and malnutrition.

The crux of the lawsuit filed by Mr. Rupard’s surviving sons is that he was neglected despite suffering from schizophrenia as well as other serious health conditions. Three days before he was found dead in a cell littered with feces and rotting food. Even a prison psychiatrist had recommended an immediate admission to a correctional healthcare facility, but the Sheriff’s Department never got around to arranging the transfer.

Understanding Wrongful Death

In the criminal law system of the United States, deaths caused by the action or inaction of individuals or institutions can be categorized as homicide or manslaughter if there is a degree of culpability. In the civil law system, wrongful deaths are those that feature a degree of liability or responsibility. In the aforementioned case involving the death of Mr. Rupar in the San Diego Central Jail, his sons are the claimants and the Sheriff’s Department is the respondent.

Wrongful death cases unfold in civil court, which means that no one will go to jail. An infamous example of these cases was the lawsuit filed against former NFL superstar OJ Simpson for the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman; even though Simpson was acquitted of homicide in criminal court, he was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the claimants. This means that the court determined he was responsible for the deaths.

What Are Your Legal Options in Wrongful Death Cases?

If someone close to you dies in a manner you believe to be suspicious in terms of negligence or responsibility, ask yourself what would have happened if death had been averted. What were the circumstances of the death? Who was involved? What could others have done to prevent tragedy?

Whenever there is a hint of wrongful, wilful, erroneous, or neglectful actions that may have precipitated death, your first step should be to contact a law firm that focuses on personal injury and wrongful death cases. In California, individuals and institutions found responsible for deaths they caused or failed to prevent may be ordered to pay damages for lost financial support, intangible loss of relationships, household services, funeral expenses, and others.

Attorneys who handle wrongful death cases evaluate if claimants have legal grounds to file a lawsuit; furthermore, they provide clients with realistic scenarios of possible outcomes. Each case is different and may present certain nuances that can become legal strategies. In the Rupard case mentioned above, for example, a federal venue was selected because of Fourteenth Amendment violations; plus, respondents such as the Sheriff’s Department are more likely to consider settlement negotiations instead of going to court.