Anyone who follows the major deaths and scandalous accusations in popular culture and news headlines has seen the use of a wrongful death claim instead, or in addition to a criminal prosecution. A wrongful death claim is a civil action brought against the supposed culpable person or party (wrongful death is the only available recourse against corporations who may be suspected of guilt or criminal recklessness). These claims can only be leveled by close relatives as enumerated by the state’s statutes. Unlike a criminal prosecution, a wrongful death claim is a lawsuit seeking retribution in monetary compensation, requiring a ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ versus the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ needed in a criminal prosecution. These factors often lead loved ones to seek justice and damages in a wrongful death claim, as present in the most high profile cases of our time.
After a culturally polarizing, and controversial verdict on the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown and acquaintance Ron Goldman, famous athlete O.J. Simpson walked free. However, Simpson was not out of the reach of legal action. In a wrongful death civil court suit claimed by the surviving family of both victims, this time the glove did in fact fit, and Simpson was not acquitted. Two years after the criminal case, a civil court jury ordered Simpson to pay 33.5 millions dollars in damages.
Unpaid by Simpson, Goldman’s father seized Simpson’s furniture, sports trophies, and royalties to his movies. The Simpson saga finally ended in a Las Vegas hotel room as Simpson’s failed heist of his former sports memorabilia landed him in jail for 33 years. The wrongful death ruling and Goldman’s persistent financial pursuit resulted in the star’s demise, and a semblance of justice served later, rather than never.
Nancy Grace and Melinda Duckett
In 2006, Nancy Grace, host of a legal and crime-focused CNN talk show of the same name, aggressively questioned Melinda Duckett over the disappearance of her two-year old son Trenton. The next day, before the episode was set to air, Duckett shot herself. Duckett’s grandfather explicitly named Grace and the distressing interview and the trauma induced as the reason for the suicide. Though police investigators had identified Duckett as an unofficial person of interest, as parents of missing children typically are, Grace’s out-of-court rulings have been criticized as characteristically aggressive, condemning and sometimes fallible. In 2010, Grace reached a settlement in a wrongful death case in the creation of a 200,000 dollar trust fund devoted to finding Trenton.
Ford Motors and the Pinto Explosions
In 1970, the Ford Pinto was manufactured with the gas tank in danger of exploding with any rear end collision over 20 mph. Despite this, and a safety test accurately catching the flaw, Ford chose money over human safety, calculating the cost of legal damages less than the price to fix the car’s design. This decision was disseminated through the now-infamous Ford Pinto Memo. Twenty-seven wrongful deaths were attributed to the Pinto’s design flaw.