Wrongful death cases have always captured the imagination and interest of the public at large. Oftentimes, these cases have also garnered front page exposure in various local and national news outlets. As a result, debates on the details of the case and the outcome have been sparked and continue to be held to this date. Some of the most famous cases involved celebrities, or defective products that could have harmed millions of people in the country. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous wrongful death cases that have been heard within the US courts system.
1. The OJ Simpson Civil Trial
The OJ Simpson trial is perhaps the most famous, or infamous, wrongful death case. OJ Simpson, former football great, sports broadcaster and actor was acquitted in 1995 on criminal charges for the slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson (OJ Simpson’s ex-wife) and Ronald Goldman, an acquaintance. The slayings took place in one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest suburbs.
The criminal trial itself was followed by millions of people on television. It is also one of the longest criminal cases in the history of this country. Once acquitted, however, the Brown and Goldman families sued Simpson in civil court over the deaths of the two. They were awarded $33.5 million in 1997 for compensatory damages. Simpson challenged this decision in court and was heard. As a result, the Brown and Goldman families have received almost no payment towards the judgement made against Simpson.
One of the reasons why this case continues to live on in the minds of the people is that Simpson is currently in prison. In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years, with the possibility of parole after 9 years, following an armed robbery and kidnapping case against him. He has appealed this decision using different grounds several times, but has always been unsuccessful, including his latest attempt in 2013.
2. The Nancy Grace Case
Nancy Grace was sued in September 2006 for wrongful death. The plaintiffs were the relatives of a 21 year old mother from Florida who killed herself a few days after Grace confronted her on air as she was being interviewed about the disappearance of her two year old sun. Melinda Duckett, the mother, was not a suspect in the case of the missing child. However, Nancy Grace, who had once worked as a prosecutor herself, started to grill Duckett in a very angry manner about the whereabouts of the missing boy. According to the Duckett family, this caused intentional emotional distress on Melinda Duckett, as Grace had insinuated that she had actually killed her child. Just hours before the show was due to be aired, she took her own life. A settlement of $200,000 was made in the case in 2010. It was agreed that the money had to be paid into the fund that is dedicated to establishing the whereabouts of Trenton Duckett, the young missing boy. Should Trenton not have been found when he is 13, the money will automatically go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Trenton was last seen on August 26, 2006 and he has not been seen since.
3. The Phil and Brynn Hartman Case
Phil Hartman, comedian and Saturday Night Live actor, was shot and killed in 1998 by his wife Brynn. After shooting her husband, she took her own life by turning the gun on herself. The killing sent shock waves through the nation, as Hartman was much loved by all. Additionally, Brynn Hartman’s family was shocked by the action of their loved on. In Hartman v. Pfizer, Brynn’s brother sued Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, which manufactured the anti-depressant Zoloft, at that time. Brynn had been prescribed the anti-depressant as she suffered from panic attacks. The case alleges that Zoloft, a very popular drug at the time, actually drove her to insanity and that this insanity caused her to shoot her husband and herself to death. Pfizer has settled the case out of court in a private agreement. The amount of the agreement has not and will not be disclosed as part of its terms and conditions. However, Zoloft is now once again the subject of various class action lawsuits, where plaintiffs allege that the drug, prescribed to pregnant women to help them combat morning sickness, has caused various debilitating birth defects.
4. The Ford Motor Pinto Case
During the 1970s, various Pinto vehicles exploded, which led to several wrongful death lawsuits being filed against Ford. The Pinto was a vehicle that had a rear-facing tank. In the smallest rear-end collision, the tank would rupture. The design was deemed to be unsafe and Ford eventually decided to recall the model in total. Various suits were filed against the company, but the most notable one was likely to be that of the wrongful death of one woman, whose 13 year old son also suffered severe burns. In this case, Ford had to pay $2.5 million in compensatory damages, as well as a further $3.5 million in punitive awards. One of the reasons why this case caught the imagination of the masses, and still does to this day, is that many feel the dangers of the Pinto were well-known by the time the woman was killed and her son was burned. It seems that public perception in at least half the cases would suggest Ford was not, in fact, liable for the accident.