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    11 High Profile Wrongful Death Cases That Should Not Have Happened

    Wrongful death means the untimely loss of life. It can be by accident or an intentional act.

    In this article we will bring you 11 high profile wrongful death cases that are worth mentioning. We hear about deaths that are caused by the acts of others all the time. Only occasionally do we think about whether there will be or should be a lawsuit that arises from that death. But many high profile cases bring wrongful death cases to the front page. 

    Below are a few of the many wrongful death cases that have been featured in the press.  Many of these have resulted in improved safety or, in some cases, criminal charges.  One thing they all have in common: these tragedies do not discriminate.  Wrongful death can be visited upon any family, no matter how wealthy or famous.

    1. The O.J. Simpson Wrongful Death Case: Karmic Justice?


    This may be the most famous wrongful death case ever, in part because it is linked to one of the most infamous murders in American history. In 1994 O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend Ronald Goldman, were brutally stabbed to death outside Nicole’s home in Los Angeles.

    Simpson, a famous retired football great and actor/sportscaster, was arrested and tried in what has been hailed as “the trial of the century.”  Represented by some of America’s most famous criminal defense lawyers, decisions by the district attorney’s office have come under fire as contributing to a defense verdict after many months of trial. After the criminal case acquittal, the Goldman and Brown families sued Simpson for wrongful death.

    The families of the deceased were awarded $33.5 million following their 1997 trial.  Simpson  moved to Florida, where recovery against a debtor’s assets is very difficult. 

    His pension from the NFL was protected (estimated at $20,000 per month), as was his sprawling suburban home. Yet Fred Goldman, the father of Ron, and Kim Goldman, Ron’s brother, have made it their mission to go after Simpson whenever they could.  Since Simpson could not legitimately own his memorabilia because it would be an asset that the Goldmans could recover, he worked in the shadows. 

    Upon learning that someone was selling memorabilia he believed to be his, Simpson participated in an armed robbery to recover his items but was apprehended, charged and convicted in 2008 of robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years in prison. 

    He was paroled after nine years behind bars, which some may see as a small price to pay.  Yet if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Goldman and Brown families in bringing the wrongful death suit against him, Simpson might never have gone to prison at all. 

    The families continue to seek recovery from any assets available from the now 71-year-old Simpson.  They are entitled to recover from any future earnings.  The original $33.5 million judgment is now reported to be up to $58 million with interest.

    A federal bankruptcy judge in 2007 awarded Goldman’s family the rights to Simpson’s controversial book “If I Did It.” The court found that Simpson committed a fraudulent transfer of his rights to the book to his children as a way to cheat creditors.

    2. The First Man on the Moon: Neil Armstrong’s Wrongful Death.

    neil amstrong wrongful deathimage via Getty Images

    Most people known the name Neil Armstrong as the first man to walk on the moon.  Armstrong became a national hero in 1969 when he accomplished what no other person had done before. Books and movies have been made about him. What most did not know until it was expose recently was that a Cincinnati hospital paid his family $6 million to settle a wrongful death case following claims that they committed medical malpractice on this hero. 

    Shortly after heart surgery in 2012, Armstrong died of complications that, by many accounts, should never have occurred but for the gross mistakes by Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital. His family claimed that negligent post-surgical care at the hospital resulted in Armstrong’s death. 

    According to reports in the New York Times, even one of the hospital’s own hired experts found fault with the care he received.  The hospital settled the case quietly, afraid that any publicity would damage its reputation. The hospital required utmost confidentiality and secrecy, but some documents have been made public. 

    This is an example of  the common practice of secrecy in medical malpractice cases, which allows mistakes to go unreported or unnoticed. In Armstrong’s case, the hospital even went so far as to create a pseudonym to use when referring to him, “Ned Anderson.”

    Most of the settlement recovered, nearly $5.2 million, was shared by Armstrong’s sons. There were smaller amounts for his brother, sister, and six grandchildren. Even the greatest of heroes are subject to the dangers of medical mistakes.  This one took the life of the Man On The Moon.

    3. Phil Hartman: His Death Was Not A Laughing Matter. 

    wrongful death image via:

    Beloved actor and comedian Phil Hartman was a staple on Saturday Night Live and considered one of its best cast members ever. His wife Brynn shot and killed him in 1998. After killing Hartman, Brynn killed herself.

    The family sued Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the drug Zoloft. Brynn had been prescribed the anti-depressant because of panic attacks. From most accounts, the behavior was wildly inconsistent with who she was, and something had to trigger such a violent rage in this woman.

    The lawsuit claimed that Zoloft actually caused her to act insane and commit this murder-suicide. Pfizer settled the case confidentially with the family.

    4. The Exploding Ford Pinto Cases.

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    In the 1970s, Ford manufactured a small car known as the Pinto.  Over time, it became apparent to Ford that the Pinto had some serious design defects which caused the car’s fuel tank to rupture and explode when struck from the rear. This often caused fiery deaths and severe burns to victims.

    Ford was subject to many wrongful death lawsuits from exploding Pintos, but they paid the ones they lost at trial.   What made the Pinto case particularly newsworthy was that Ford had actually done a cost-benefit calculation on the exploding Pintos.  It would cost $11 per car to fix the defect.

    Ford decided that it was cheaper for them to continue to pay wrongful death and personal injury verdicts than recall all the cars and fix the defect. When the memo documenting the calculations came to light, Ford was hit with a massive punitive damages award in an attempt to send a clear message to the manufacturer. 

    The case that sent this message was Grimshaw v. Ford, which arose when a 1972 was hit in the rear at 30 mph.  Lily Gray was killed, and 13 year-old Richard Grimshaw horribly burned, when the car exploded. The jury awarded the Gray family $560,000 and Grimshaw $2.5 million in compensatory damages. The jury, however, sent a message to Ford with a $125 million punitive damage award (which was later reduced to $3.5 million by the court).

    5. The Wrongful Death of America’s Funniest Woman, Joan Rivers.

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    By many accounts Joan Rivers was the funniest woman in comedy. She broke new ground and continued as a top-tier entertainer until the day she died.  Unfortunately her death was premature, and due to gross medical malpractice.

    In August 2014 Joan Rivers was treated at the Yorkville Medical Clinic in Manhattan for what was expected to be a routine endoscopy (to examine her upper digestive system, a common procedure) to figure out why she was having hoarseness in her voice.

    A doctor who did not even have privileges to practice at this facility performed an unconsented procedure (a larygoscopy).  While undergoing the unauthorized procedure, Rivers’ oxygen level dropped. Because the doctors were more interested in taking selfies with Joan while she was under anesthesia, they failed to recognize this critical condition.

    The procedure had obstructed Rivers’ airway, which was unmonitored and caused her to lose oxygen to her brain.  To compound their errors, the physicians administered twice the appropriate dose of anesthesia, which they later altered in their medical records to try to cover up their misdeeds.

    As a result of this, Joan Rivers suffered brain death and her daughter Melissa had to have her mother removed from life support. What was supposed to be a routine diagnostic medical procedure resulted in the tragic death of this beloved entertainer.  Melissa Rivers brought suit against the Clinic and the doctors, claiming that the doctors were “reckless, grossly negligent and wanton” in their mistreatment of Joan.

    In May 2016 the case was settled and the doctors admitted responsibility.  This wrongful death illustrates how even the most famous and affluent can still suffer a wrongful death and attempted cover-up.

    6. Michael Jackson’s Tragic Death By Medication.

    image via: Antonio Manfredonio

    Almost everyone on Earth knew who Michael Jackson was. The King of Pop was a recognized figure across the globe. What few knew was that he was addicted to narcotics. A doctor hired by Jackson’s concert promoter provided Jackson with large quantities of prescription propofol and benzodiazepines. 

    Jackson overdosed and died in June 2009. Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s doctor, had given him the medications.  He was there when the singer died, and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served two years in prison.  The Jackson family brought a wrongful death case against AEG, the promoter who hired Murray. 

    The case went to trial, and a jury found that while AEG did hire Murray, the determined that Murray was not unfit or incompetent at the time to be Jackson’s doctor.  Because they had no reason to believe that Murray was incompetent, the jury decided AEG was not liable for Jackson’s death.

    7. 8 Simple Rules: John Ritter’s Death.

    image via COREY IRWIN

    Actor John Ritter was starring in a television comedy series “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” when he died in 2003. Ritter was a well-known actor and star of the 1970s series “Three’s Company” when he fell victim to what was alleged to be medical mistakes. 

    His surviving wife claimed that scans from 2001 were misinterpreted. In 2003, he died from an aortic ailment.  He was treated for a heart attack when he had a torn aorta. The case against the hospital, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, settled the case confidentially with the family.

    Ritter’s widow was not successful at trial against the radiologist and cardiologist, who claimed that the actor would have died no matter what the results of the scan were.

    8. Baretta Gets Away With Murder…Or Does He?

    image via Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

    In the 1970s, Robert Blake was a huge star in the TV series “Baretta.” He played a tough guy detective. Baretta was married to his second wife Bonny Lee Bakley. In 2001 Bakley was shot and killed outside a restaurant where she and Blake had just dined. Blake had left the car to go retrieve a gun he claimed he had forgotten while eating.  Blake was charged with his wife’s murder but in 2005 he was acquitted. 

    Bakely’s family brought a wrongful death civil suit against Blake, and a civil jury concluded that he either killed Bakley himself or had someone else kill her. They awarded the family $30 million to her children, which was later reduced by half on appeal.  Blake filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and in 2013 he settled the wrongful death case with Bakely’s children.

    9. Compounding Errors Cause Deadly Plane Crash Taking Singer Aaliyah’s Life.

    image via Blackground Records

    Singing sensation and Grammy nominee Aaliyah was killed in 2001 when her plane crashed in the Bahamas. Her parents brought a wrongful death case based on what they claimed was many mistakes that caused the tragedy.  The pilot was on his first day on the job. He was not approved by the FAA to fly that day.

    To make matters worse, her parents claimed in addition to his inexperience he had cocaine and alcohol in his body at the time he was flying. Add to this situation an aircraft that was 700 pounds over what it should have been. The singer’s parents, Diane and Michael Haughton, brought the case against the charter airline, Blackhawk, and the record company, Virgin Records, who was responsible for arranging the transportation. 

    There was evidence the airline company had been cited four times previously.  The case was settled confidentially in 2003.

    10. Dipping Leads To Cancer Then Death For Baseball Star Tony Gwynn.

    image via getty images

    Tony Gwynn was a famous and beloved baseball player for the San Diego Padres. A member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Gwynn used Skoal chewing tobacco since his days as a college player. The manufacturer made the chewing tobacco, known as “dip”, available at no charge to Gwynn, whose use helped promote it to the public.

    In 2014 he died from salivary gland cancer at the age of 54. Before he died he underwent numerous surgeries for the cancer, which was linked to his use of smokeless tobacco. “He never knew it but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him,” said Gwynn’s daughter, Anisha, after a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the tobacco manufacturer.

    Chewing up to two cans of smokeless tobacco a day, the lawsuit claimed, was the equivalent of smoking 4-5 packs of cigarettes.   He used the product for over 30 years.  In 2018 the family settled the wrongful death case for a confidential amount.

    11. Football Star Suicide Leads To Wrongful Death Case.

    image via getty images

    Junior Seau was a star football player by every measure. Selected 12 times for the Pro Bowl, Seau was an amazing linebacker.  It came as a shock when in 2012 he committed suicide. At 43, Seau had developed CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. 

    This condition has been diagnosed in many retired (and many active) football players, a result of concussions and the concussive effects of hits to the head in this violent sport. After his death, Seau’s family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL, opting out of the NFL concussion settlement class.

    Under that comprehensive settlement plan, families of former NFL players who die of head trauma may receive up to $4 million in compensation. After 20 years of pro football, Seau was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. This was little comfort for his grieving family, who in 2018 confidentially settled their wrongful death case with the NFL.

    Article by:

    John Leighton

    A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite


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