On January 26, 2001, Sharon Smith went home early from work. Her partner of seven years, Diane Whipple, had called her earlier that day asking her to spend the afternoon together. Sharon pulled up to their apartment building and immediately saw police cars, ambulances, flashing lights, and sirens. She knew right then that something awful had happened to Diane.
In fact, Diane had been murdered that day, by the two Presa Canario dogs that lived across the hall in the home of Diane and Sharon’s neighbors, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller. Diane had been threatened by, and scared of, the dogs for years, but their neighbors never did anything to control their dogs or prevent them from threatening her.
Noel and Knoller were prosecuted in both civil and criminal court, and Diane’s mother was able also to sue them for wrongful death – because, in 2001, marriage for same-sex couples was not yet legal. So Sharon had no legal standing to pursue a wrongful death claim. But she knew that she deserved to be able to do so, too. So she filed a lawsuit requesting permission to be able to file a wrongful death claim.
Sharon won her case to be able to sue for wrongful death – and became the first same-sex partner in the nation to be able to do so. She did indeed sue for wrongful death, and she won.
This terrible and tragic scenario is too awful for most of us to even contemplate. Hopefully, most of us will never have to face anything as terrible or as sad as the death of a spouse or partner due to murder. But the truth is we all visit doctors and hospitals every day, and alarmingly, medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease and cancer, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Of course, we all trust our doctors — or at least we should. But the truth is sometimes negligence does happen; doctors are human and make mistakes. But a mistake should never cost someone their life. Which is why the mechanism for filing a wrongful death claim exists.
The last thing anyone should have to worry about, should something happen to their spouse or partner, is whether they will be legally allowed to seek justice for the death of their loved one – and they also shouldn’t have to worry about finding a good lawyer to represent them.
Most cases of wrongful death come about from medical malpractice claims. A medical malpractice case will only be successful if the death or injury occurred because of negligence on the part of the doctor – not just a violation of the standard of care. Because of this, an experienced malpractice attorney, who knows all the ins and outs of how to file a malpractice claim is essential for those who are pursuing wrongful death claims on behalf of their loved ones.
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