Wrongful death can occur in a variety of contexts. Many times a cause of action will arise in connection with the negligent or otherwise wrongful act of an individual. Sometimes the responsible party the untimely death will be a legal entity, like a corporation. And on occasion it may be that a government agency itself may be to blame. This last possibility has been the subject of ongoing pretrial maneuverings arising out of the death of a woman while in custody in the Waller County Jail.
The woman had been arrested and taken to the jail as the result of a traffic stop that evidently got out of hand when the woman refused to cooperate with the demands placed upon her by the officer making the stop. The woman was arrested as a result. While at the jail she was unable to post her own bond and was also apparently unable to get a family member to post it, either; she was later found dead in her jail cell.
The family of the deceased has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Waller County as well as against specific employees of the jail, based on the claim that her death was the result of mistreatment received there. But attorneys for the county have countered that the death was determined to be a suicide by the county medical examiner, and that rather than the county it is the Department of Public Services -- which employed the police officer who made the arrest -- that should be the subject of any litigation. The county has filed a motion with the federal district court considering the case to have it dismissed as a result.
It is one thing to understand the elements of a wrongful death case, but we must always remember that litigation does not take place in a vacuum. The defendants in such an action will have their own legal counsel and can be expected to raise multiple defenses, including procedural and jurisdictional objections before the case goes to trial. Having an experienced personal injury attorney on the plaintiff's side who knows what to expect and how to respond to the arguments and tactics of defense attorneys can make a meaningful difference in how successful a wrongful death claim may be.
Source: KHOU, "Waller Co. attorneys ask judge to throw out Sandra Bland wrongful death suit," Alice Barr, Nov. 12, 2015