Oregon Wrongful Death Guide

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Oregon Wrongful Death Guide

  1. 1. Oregon Wrongful Death Laws Oregon Wrongful Death Laws A Family Guide to the Civil Justice System After the Death of a Loved One By Joshua Shulman and Sean DuBois, Attorneys at Law
  2. 2. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     1                  Oregon  Wrongful  Death  Laws     Introduction   Chapter  1:  What  is  a  “Wrongful  Death”?  ….  Page  2   Chapter  2:  Who  Can  Bring  a  Wrongful  Death  Claim?  ….Page  3   Chapter  3:  What  Should  I  Do  First  to  Protect  My  Rights?  ….Page  5   Chapter  4:  How  Long  Do  I  Have  to  File  a  Wrongful  Death  Claim?  ….Page  8   Chapter  5:  What  Losses  Can  I  Receive  Compensation  For?  ….Page  10   Chapter  6:  What  is  the  Value  of  My  Wrongful  Death  Claim?  ….Page  12   Chapter  7:  Who  are  the  Beneficiaries  in  a  Wrongful  Death  Case?  ….Page  14   Chapter  8:  How  Do  I  Hire  a  Wrongful  Death  Attorney?  ….Page  15   Conclusion                 Legal  Disclaimer     We  are  putting  this  up  front  because  it  is  so  important  that  you  understand  what  this  white  paper  can  and  cannot  do  for   you  and  your  claim.     This  report  is  not  legal  advice.  We  are  not  your  lawyers.   “Legal  advice”  means  advice  that  is  given  specifically  to  you,  tailored  to  your  situation,  taking  into  account  unique  details   of  your  particular  claim.  Every  case  is  different.  This  report  will  give  you  useful  information,  but  it  is  general  information.   There  is  no  way  we  can  give  you  legal  advice  without  knowing  the  details  of  your  case.     If  you  want  legal  advice,  or  if  you  want  to  create  an  attorney-­‐client  relationship,  you  must  contact  a  lawyer  and  form  a   direct  relationship  with  that  lawyer.  This  is  almost  always  done  by  signing  a  contract  with  that  lawyer,  in  which  you  agree   to  hire  the  lawyer,  and  the  lawyer  agrees  to  represent  you.  Usually  for  this  sort  of  case,  no  payment  is  required.   You  cannot  create  an  attorney-­‐client  relationship  by  reading  a  report.  If,  after  reading  this  paper,  and  doing  all  of  your   research,  you  decide  to  hire  a  lawyer,  you  can  call  a  personal  injury  law  office  to  make  an  appointment  and  sign  an   agreement,  after  which  you  will  have  an  attorney-­‐client  relationship.   What’s  more,  this  paper  is  incomplete,  as  any  such  report  would  have  to  be.  We  have  done  our  best  to  include  the   common  information  that  most  people  will  need,  but  every  case  has  a  twist  or  a  turn  that  is  unique  and  unusual,  and  there   will  be  crucial  information  that  is  not  included.  There  always  is.  This  is  meant  to  be  a  guide  to  help  you  with  general   information.  But  crucial  items  will  be  missing,  and  so  please  do  not  take  this  to  be  a  complete  guide  to  your  case.  It  simply   cannot  be  that.   Finally,  though  we  have  done  our  best  to  make  sure  that  all  laws  contained  here  are  up-­‐to-­‐date,  laws  change  often.  Before   counting  on  any  law  cited  in  this  report,  check  it  yourself  or  get  a  lawyer  to  check  it  for  you.  Oregon  laws  are  available  at   www.leg.state.or.us/ors/home.html.    
  3. 3. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     2   Introduction   Nothing  is  worse  than  a  loved  one  dying  unnecessarily.  When  death  comes  in  the  natural   order  of  things,  of  old  age,  it  still  causes  feelings  of  loss  and  grief.  But  when  a  death  was  the   result  of  someone  being  careless  –  when  a  loved  one  would  still  be  alive  if  only  that  person   hadn’t  run  the  red  light,  if  only  that  truck  driver  hadn’t  driven  15  straight  hours  and  fallen   asleep  at  the  wheel,  if  only  that  company  had  performed  the  proper  safety  inspection  –   then  the  loss  can  become  clouded  with  a  host  of  other  issues,  questions,  and  doubts.     If  you  are  reading  this  because  a  loved  one  has  died  through  someone  else’s  fault,  we  wrote   this  for  you.  We  consider  it  our  duty  to  inform  you  of  your  legal  rights.  We  know  that  in  the   wake  of  this  loss,  emotions  run  deep,  and  the  last  thing  people  want  to  do  is  call  a  lawyer,   make  an  appointment,  drive  to  the  lawyer’s  office,  etc.  We  hope  that  by  putting  this   important  information  into  written  form,  we  can  pass  the  information  on  in  a  way  that  will   allow  you  to  read  it  in  your  own  time,  at  your  own  pace,  without  having  to  make  an   appointment,  drive  to  an  office,  or  talk  to  anyone  before  you’re  ready.     The  legal  term  for  fatal  accident  claims  is  “wrongful  death.”  It’s  a  curious  term  because,  as   far  as  we  know,  there’s  no  such  thing  as  a  “rightful  death.”  But  we  need  some  way  to   distinguish  a  death  that  was  nobody’s  fault  from  a  death  that  was  caused  by  another   person’s  carelessness,  recklessness,  or  intentional  act.  So  we  use  the  term  “wrongful  death”   to  describe  the  civil  cases  that  can  be  brought  when  a  death  was,  from  a  legal  perspective,   someone  else’s  fault.     The  personal  devastation  in  the  wake  of  such  a  tragedy  is  so  profound  that  legal  counsel   can  seem  completely  beside  the  point.  But  as  lawyers,  we  know  that  when  a  death  is  caused   by  someone’s  carelessness,  there  are  legal  steps  that  should  be  taken  before  it  is  too  late  to   file  a  claim  –  so  if  you  are  even  considering  a  wrongful  death  suit,  read  this    report  to  make   sure  you  don’t  unwittingly  jeopardize  your  case  by  waiting  too  long.    
  4. 4. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     3   Chapter  1:  What  is  a  Wrongful  Death?       Wrongful  death  is  when  a  negligent,  reckless,  or  intentional  act  by  a  person  or  company   causes  the  death  of  another.  Murder  would  certainly  qualify,  but  so  would  a  car  crash,  even   if  the  bad  driver  who  caused  the  death  did  not  mean  to  hurt  anyone,  but  was  merely   careless.     Common  Circumstances  of  Wrongful  Death  Include:   • Auto  Collisions • Workplace  Accidents • Airplane/Boating  Accidents • Medical  Malpractice • Dangerous  or  Faulty  Products One  premise  behind  a  wrongful  death  lawsuit  is  that,  as  well  as  killing  a  person,  the  family   members  who  have  been  left  behind  have  also  been  injured  –  emotionally,  psychologically,   and  sometimes  financially.  The  Oregon  law  that  allows  family  members  to  make  a  wrongful   death  claim  against  the  negligent  people  or  companies  that  caused  the  death  is  Oregon   Revised  Statutes  (abbreviated  “ORS”)  30.010-­‐30.100.     Wrongful  death  claims  are  complicated,  but  the  point  of  this  report  is  to  help  you  learn   enough  about  the  process  to  decide  whether  pursuing  a  case  is  in  the  best  interest  of  you   and  your  family,  and  if  so,  to  help  you  understand  the  steps.  Because  it  is  complicated,   many  questions  arise  in  a  wrongful  death  case.  The  most  basic  thing  to  understand  is  that  a   wrongful  death  claim  is  a  civil  lawsuit  -­‐  as  opposed  to  a  murder  case,  which  is  a  criminal   lawsuit.       A  criminal  case  is  separate  and  independent  from  a  civil  case.  Some  deaths  result  in  only  a   criminal  case  (murder  or  manslaughter),  but  no  civil  case.  Others  may  result  in  a  civil  case   but  no  criminal  case.  Still  others  may  result  in  both.     For  example,  in  the  famous  O.J.  Simpson  case,  a  criminal  case  was  brought,  and  then   afterwards  a  civil  case  was  brought.  Simpson  was  found  not  guilty  in  the  murder  trial,  but   was  held  liable  in  the  civil,  wrongful  death  case.  One  of  the  reasons  this  was  possible  is   because  a  criminal  murder  charge  must  be  proven  “beyond  a  reasonable  doubt,”  whereas  a   wrongful  death  action  only  needs  to  show  by  a  “preponderance  of  the  evidence”  that  it  is   “more  likely  than  not”  that  the  defendant  caused  the  death  -­‐  either  intentionally,  recklessly,   or  simply  by  being  careless  or  negligent.       Wrongful  death  claims  are  easier  to  prove  in  a  court  of  law  because  they  do  not  seek  to  put   someone  behind  bars;  they  only  seek  money.  Though  it’s  quite  possible  the  person  being   sued  may  end  up  in  prison  if  criminal  charges  are  brought  as  well,  the  cases  are  separate.      
  5. 5. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     4   Chapter  2:  Who  Can  Bring  a  Wrongful  Death  Claim?       When  a  person  dies,  and  leaves  behind  anything  that  is  worth  money,  the  law  creates  an   “estate.”  If  John  Doe  dies,  then  it  will  be  called  “The  Estate  of  John  Doe.”  For  example,  you   may  sometimes  see  “Estate  Sales,”  where  the  possessions  of  someone  who  has  passed  away   are  being  sold.  What  has  happened,  legally,  is  that  the  person  died,  an  “estate”  was  created,   the  “estate”  now  owns  all  of  the  stuff,  and  the  person  in  charge  of  the  estate  decided  to  sell   the  items.     An  estate  is  a  purely  legal  creation.  Don’t  think  of  it  as  something  real;  think  of  it  as  just  a   word  that  the  law  uses  to  describe  everything  the  deceased  has  left  behind.  Specifically,   ORS  Chapter  113  explains  Oregon  Estate  Law  in  detail.  “Estate”  simply  means  everything  of   monetary  value  that  belonged  to  the  person.  If  a  person  was  wronged  in  a  way  that  could   give  rise  to  a  lawsuit,  then  that  lawsuit  has  value,  and  so  it  belongs  to  the  “estate.”     Because  the  person  who  was  wronged  is  no  longer  alive,  that  person  cannot  bring  a   lawsuit.  Their  Estate,  however,  is  legally  allowed  to  collect  any  money  that  is  owed  to  the   person  who  has  passed  away,  including  money  that  may  be  “owed”  due  to  a  wrongful  death   lawsuit.  A  person  who  represents  the  estate  may  bring  the  lawsuit.  The  person  who   represents  the  Estate  is  called  the  personal  representative  of  the  estate.  “Personal   representative”  is  often  abbreviated  as  “P.R.”     How  the  Personal  Representative  is  Chosen   The  personal  representative  has  to  be  approved  by  a  judge.  Usually,  all  of  the  beneficiaries   will  agree  upon  one  of  them  to  be  the  personal  representative.  There  is  a  specific  order  that   the  law  states  (ORS  113.085)  is  the  preferred  way  to  choose  a  P.R.   Here  is  the  order:     1. Executor  named  in  a  will     2. Spouse  or  nominee  of  the  spouse   3. Next  of  kin  or  nominee  of  next  of  kin   In  reality,  the  surviving  family  members  often  agree  on  who  would  be  the  best  P.R.,  ideally   with  the  advice  of  their  lawyers.  And  if  they  all  agree,  the  judge  will  usually  accept  that   person  and  appoint  him  or  her  as  the  personal  representative.  The  best  P.R.  for  the  family   will  be  the  person  who  has  the  time,  attention,  and  ability  to  work  with  the  wrongful  death   attorney  throughout  the  case.  This  person  should  also  be  trusted  by  all  the  beneficiaries  to   make  decisions  that  will  be  good  for  everyone.     If  the  beneficiaries  cannot  agree,  then  they  can  all  make  their  arguments  to  the  judge  about   who  each  of  them  thinks  should  be  the  personal  representative,  and  then  the  judge  will   make  a  decision.  In  that  case,  the  order  given  in  ORS  113.085  will  matter  a  lot,  but  it  is  not   the  only  consideration;  it  just  states  a  preference.  If  there  is  no  spouse,  and  the  judge  is   deciding  which  “next  of  kin”  would  be  best,  preference  is  usually  (but  not  always)  given  to   the  decedent’s  child.  If  that  child  is  a  minor  (and  therefore  cannot  be  P.R.),  than  preference  
  6. 6. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     5   will  be  given  to  that  child’s  parent  or  guardian.  Alternatively,  one  person  can  simply   petition  the  court  to  be  appointed  P.R.,  and  then  wait  for  anyone  who  disagrees  to  make   their  objections  to  the  court.  Normally,  the  other  potential/aspiring  personal   representatives  have  four  months  to  file  a  formal  objection  with  the  court.  This  is  the  most   contentious  way,  as  it  would  require  that  official  notice  be  given  to  other  possible  P.R.   candidates,  and  should  be  avoided  if  possible.  But  if  there  is  one  person  who  objects  and   won’t  discuss  it  outside  of  court,  it  can  sometimes  be  the  only  way  to  proceed.   Role  of  the  Personal  Representative     The  personal  representative  is  the  person  who  is  in  charge  of  the  sorts  of  decision-­‐making   that  a  client  does  in  a  lawsuit.  The  most  important  decision  is  whether  to  accept  a   settlement  offer.  That  decision  must  be  approved  by  a  judge,  but  approval  is  usually  given,   so  this  is  a  very  important  power.     The  personal  representative  is  also  responsible  for  much  of  the  paperwork  that  goes  along   with  a  lawsuit.  If  a  family  member  who  has  been  left  behind  by  the  death  is  too  grief-­‐ stricken  to  be  an  efficient  administrator,  it  may  make  sense  to  hire  a  professional  to  take   over  the  administrative  tasks  as  much  as  possible.     The  personal  representative  is  required  by  law  to  act  “reasonably  for  the  benefit  of   interested  persons.”  So  legally,  if  an  interested  person  believes  that  a  personal   representative  is  not  doing  this,  they  can  bring  this  to  the  judge’s  attention.  Practically   speaking,  however,  a  personal  representative  has  a  lot  of  leeway.  The  term  “reasonable”   does  not  stretch  forever,  but  it  does  stretch  pretty  far.  There  are  a  wide  variety  of  actions  a   person  can  take  and  still  be  “reasonable.”   If  you  do  end  up  being  the  personal  representative,  your  duties  would  include:   • Choosing  a  lawyer   • Meeting  with  the  lawyer   • Discussing  both  the  life  and  the  death  of  your  loved  one  with  your  lawyer   • Sometimes  being  involved  (to  your  level  of  comfort)  in  strategic  discussions  with   your  lawyer   • Probably  having  your  deposition  (statement)  taken   • Responding  to  requests  for  production  by  the  opposing  attorney   • Discussing  settlement  amounts  with  your  lawyer   • Making  the  final  decision  of  whether  or  not  to  accept  a  settlement  offer   • Possibly  going  to  trial  
  7. 7. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     6   Chapter  3:  What  Should  I  Do  First  to  Protect  My  Rights?       The  good  news  is  that,  for  most  of  the  legal  issues  surrounding  a  wrongful  death,  there  is  no   rush.  While  there  are  time  limits  for  filing  a  case,  called  “statutes  of  limitations,”  in  most   cases  you  will  have  time  to  grieve  before  worrying  about  losing  your  right  to  file.     Unfortunately,  there  are  several  exceptions.  Here  are  the  most  common  ones:     • Alcohol  was  involved     • One  of  the  defendants  (at-­‐fault  parties)  may  be  a  city,  county,  or  state  agency  or   employee     • A  faulty  or  unreasonably  dangerous  product  was  involved   Now,  this  is  a  point  at  which  we  have  to  remind  you  again  of  a  disclaimer  that  applies  to   this  report.  Every  case  is  different.  It  is  possible  that  your  case  is  not  one  of  the  common   ones,  and  that  there  is  some  sort  of  rush  beyond  this.  But  for  most  cases,  if  one  of  the  above   does  not  apply,  the  only  rush  will  be  to  secure  evidence,  and  other  than  that  you  can  take   your  time.  Note  also  that  “take  your  time”  does  not  mean  procrastinate  for  a  really  long   time.  It  means  you  can  feel  secure  in  taking  two  or  three  months  to  consider  your  options.   Immediately  after  the  death  of  a  loved  one,  you  are  likely  in  no  condition  to  be  talking  with   lawyers,  thinking  about  legalities,  or,  certainly,  securing  evidence.  But  we  can  promise  you,   the  insurance  company  and  lawyers  for  the  person  or  company  responsible  for  the  death   will  not  hesitate.  They  will  rush  out  and  gather  whatever  evidence  they  can  as  soon  as  they   can.  Will  they  destroy  evidence?  Probably  not  –  it  is  illegal  and  carries  real  penalties,   though  it  does  happen  occasionally.  But  even  assuming  they  don’t,  it  can  still  be  very   important  for  any  possible  lawsuit  that  may  happen  in  the  future  that  you  gather  evidence   before  it  is  destroyed,  altered,  or  lost,  whether  on  purpose,  by  accident,  or  even  just  by  the   passage  of  time.   For  example,  in  a  car  crash,  all  vehicles  involved  should  be  preserved  exactly  as  they  are,   taken  to  a  safe  and  dry  place,  and  kept  there  until  engineering  experts  can  examine  them.   Skid  marks  should  be  photographed,  measured,  and  recorded.  Witnesses  should  be   interviewed  quickly,  before  they  forget  what  happened.     So  that’s  the  bad  news:  there  is  this  one  item  that  you  should  rush  on.  But  we  can  temper  it   with  some  good  news:  Any  wrongful  death  lawyer  worth  his  or  her  salt  will  do  an   investigation  for  you,  and  usually  at  no  charge.  Most  lawyers  are  willing  to  pay  out  of  their   own  pocket  for  an  investigation  intended  to  determine  whether  there  is  a  viable  case.  If  it   turns  out  that  there  is  not  a  good  case,  most  lawyers  will  simply  absorb  that  investigation   cost;  it’s  just  a  cost  of  doing  business  for  most  of  us.     This  brings  us  to  an  important  question  that  you  should  ask  any  lawyer  you  are  considering   hiring:  “If  I  later  decide  to  go  with  another  lawyer,  are  you  going  to  charge  me,  or  refuse  to   turn  over  my  file,  or  charge  me  to  turn  over  my  file?”  This  is  a  particularly  important   question  if  you  are  still  raw  from  your  loss,  and  are  hiring  a  lawyer  very  quickly  to  get  that   investigation  done  and  preserve  the  evidence.  
  8. 8. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     7   Remember,  even  if  you  have  not  officially  been  appointed  as  the  Personal  Representative   for  the  estate,  you  can  still  hire  an  attorney  to  begin  the  investigation.  You  do  NOT  need  to   wait  until  you  have  been  appointed  P.R.,  and  in  fact,  there  are  a  couple  of  reasons  why  you   should  NOT  wait.     First,  a  lawyer  is  usually  necessary  to  get  someone  appointed  as  P.R.,  so  you  cannot  become   P.R.  until  after  you've  hired  a  lawyer.  Second,  if  there  is  any  dispute  over  who  will  serve  as   P.R.,  evidence  could  be  lost  while  you  are  waiting.  And  there  really  is  no  downside,  because   if  you  are  appointed  as  P.R.  you  can  use  the  results  of  the  investigation,  and  if  you  are  not   appointed  P.R.,  you  can  turn  over  the  results  to  the  chosen  P.R.  and  their  attorney.    
  9. 9. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     8   Chapter  4:  How  Long  Do  I  Have  to  File  a  Wrongful  Death  Claim?       In  addition  to  the  practical  time  limit  of  trying  to  gather  information  while  it’s  fresh,  there   are  also  legal  time  limits.  These  legal  time  limits  are  called  statutes  of  limitations  and  you   will  hear  this  term  a  lot.     First,  another  statement  of  our  disclaimer:  statutes  of  limitations  are  notoriously  difficult.   There  are  many,  many  special  limitations.  Every  interest  group  that  exists  seems  to  want  to   lobby  the  legislature  for  special  statutes  of  limitations  for  their  own  special  issue.  So  this   information  is  general.  It  may  not  apply  to  your  case.  Many  lawyers  refuse  to  give  this   general  information,  fearing  that  if  it’s  wrong,  they’ll  get  sued.  We  believe  it’s  better  to  give   some  information  rather  than  none.  But  we  can’t  possibly  give  you  all  the  information,   because  there’s  just  too  much  of  it.     What  we’re  writing  here  will  apply  to  90%  of  cases.  But  that  won’t  help  you  if  you’re  in  the   other  10%.  It’s  general  information  only;  you  cannot  count  on  it  applying  to  your  case.  And   finally,  if  the  incident  that  caused  the  death  happened  outside  of  Oregon,  then  Oregon  law   probably  won’t  apply,  because  every  state  is  different  and  this    report  was  written   specifically  for  Oregon  cases.     The  statute  of  limitations  for  a  wrongful  death  case  in  Oregon  is  three  years  from  the  date   of  the  incident  that  ultimately  ended  up  causing  death  (ORS  30.020).  Note  that  if  a  person  is   hospitalized  for  a  time  before  dying,  the  statute  of  limitations  begins  on  the  date  of  the   injury,  not  on  the  date  of  death.   If  the  injury  was  not  discovered  until  later  –  and  if  that  delay  in  discovery  was  “reasonable,”   –  then  the  clock  starts  when  the  injury  “was  or  reasonably  should  have  been  discovered.”   For  example,  if  someone  has  a  surgery  that  appeared  to  go  well,  but  in  fact  caused  internal   injuries  that  were  not  discovered  until  six  months  later,  and  if  that  six  month  delay  in   discovering  the  injuries  was  “reasonable,”  then  the  clock  does  not  begin  ticking  until  the   injury  is  discovered.  Or  “reasonably  should  have  been  discovered.”  What  does  “reasonably”   mean  here?  Nobody  knows.  It’s  different  for  every  circumstance  because  people  may   disagree  about  what  is  reasonable.  Ultimately,  a  judge  or  jury,  or  even  the  Supreme  Court,   may  have  to  decide  whether  a  certain  delay  was  “reasonable.”   If  Death  Was  Caused  by  a  Public  Agency  or  Employee     If  the  death  was  caused  by  a  public  entity,  or  someone  working  for  a  public  entity,  then  a   “Tort  Claim  Notice”  has  to  be  received  by  the  proper  person  or  department  within  one  year   of  the  incident  that  caused  the  death  (If  it’s  an  injury  that  does  not  cause  death,  the  time   limit  is  only  180  days).  The  “tort  claim  notice”  is  basically  the  official  notice  to  a  public  body   that  someone  believes  they  have  grounds  for  a  lawsuit.  This  is  not  the  lawsuit  itself,  which   will  later  need  to  be  proved,  but  just  the  first  step  in  the  process  –  and  if  this  step  is  not   taken  properly,  and  within  the  time  limit,  then  any  lawsuit  will  later  be  thrown  out.     Tort  claim  notices  can  be  tricky;  it  would  not  be  good  to  wait  until  the  last  minute  to  send  
  10. 10. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     9   one,  as  it  has  to  be  actually  received  by  the  deadline,  and  it  has  to  go  to  the  correct  person   or  entity.  ORS  30.275  describes  exactly  what  must  be  in  the  tort  claim  notice,  and  whom  it   must  be  mailed  to.  If  you  are  suing  a  private  business  or  individual,  a  tort  claim  notice  is  not   necessary  –  but  do  not  assume  you  don’t  need  one.  If  one  is  required  and  it  is  not  received   in  time,  you  will  forfeit  your  right  to  sue  that  public  entity.     Note  that  the  Tort  Claim  Notice  must  be  received  within  the  year.  Not  sent,  not  postmarked;   but  actually  received.  And  again,  the  clock  starts  ticking  on  the  day  of  the  injury  that   ultimately  caused  the  death;  not  on  the  day  of  death.   The  details  on  how  to  send  a  Tort  Claim  Notice,  what  it  must  include,  and  who  to  send  it  to,   are  in  ORS  30.275.  Because  all  of  these  laws  work  together  to  make  it  difficult  to  sue  public   bodies,  however,  all  of  ORS  30.260  to  ORS  30.300  should  be  read  and  understood.   If  Alcohol  Was  a  Factor  in  the  Death       If  alcohol  was  involved  in  a  death,  and  if  the  server  of  the  alcohol  was  partly  responsible  for   the  death  because  they  served  an  already  visibly  intoxicated  person,  or  served  a  minor,  or   failed  to  perform  their  server  duties  correctly  in  other  ways  (which  are  defined  by  the   Oregon  Liquor  Control  Commission),  you  may  be  able  to  make  a  claim  against  the  bar  or   person  who  served  the  alcohol.  (Note:  “Bar”  is  a  generic  term,  and  the  establishment  might   actually  be  a  restaurant,  club,  hotel,  or  even  a  private  person.)     This  is  a  difficult  case  to  bring  for  many  reasons,  and  generally  speaking,  the  server  must   clearly  have  some  responsibility  for  serving  alcohol  to  someone  who  was  already  drunk,   and  who  should  not  have  been  served  even  more  alcohol.  The  Oregon  Liquor  Control   Commission  has  strict  guidelines,  and  professional  bartenders  are  trained  to  see  signs  of   intoxication  –  training  that  is  intended  to  help  prevent  deaths  from  alcohol.  When  a   bartender  ignores  these  laws,  the  bar  can  sometimes  be  liable  for  the  resulting  death.  In  a   case  where  a  bar  or  bartender  may  be  responsible,  the  establishment  must  be  sent  a  “Dram   Shop  Notice”,  which  (like  a  Tort  Claim  Notice)  is  a  special  letter  declaring  the  grounds  to   file  a  lawsuit  later.     But  a  Dram  Shop  Notice  must  be  delivered  to  the  right  person  or  entity,  and  there  is  also  a   one-­‐year  time  limit  to  file  a  Dram  Shop  Notice.  (ORS  471.565  and  ORS  471.567).  This  is   similar  to  the  Tort  Claim  Notice  that  is  required  for  public  bodies.  Just  as  with  the  Tort   Claim  Notice,  it  must  be  received  within  the  year.  Not  sent,  not  postmarked  –actually   received.    
  11. 11. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     10   Chapter  5:  What  Losses  Can  I  Receive  Compensation  For?       You  will  hear  a  lot  of  people  talking  about  “damages”  during  a  wrongful  death  case.   “Damages”  can  refer  to  the  amount  of  money  you  have  lost  and  the  suffering  you  have   undergone  as  a  result  of  the  loss  of  your  loved  one,  but  “damages”  also  refers  to  the  amount   you  ultimately  settle  for,  or  the  amount  a  jury  decides  is  the  proper  compensation  for  your   losses.  So  the  word  “damages”  refers  to  both  your  losses,  and  the  money  meant  to   compensate  for  those  losses.     In  a  wrongful  death  case,  damages  are  available  only  pursuant  to  ORS  30.020,  so  the   damages  are  specified  precisely  in  the  statute.  They  are:     • Charges  for  medical  services;   • Charges  for  burial  and  memorial  services;   • Compensation  that  the  decedent  would  have  been  entitled  to  for  disability,  pain,   suffering  and  loss  of  income  during  the  period  between  injury  to  the  decedent  and   the  decedent’s  death;   • Compensation  for  “pecuniary  loss”  to  the  decedent’s  estate;   • Compensation  for  the  loss  of  the  decedent’s  “society,  companionship  and  services”   to  the  decedent’s  spouse,  children,  stepchildren,  stepparents,  and  parents;   • Punitive  damages  that  the  decedent  would  have  been  entitled  to  had  he/she  lived.   Some  notes  about  this  list:  Several  of  these  terms  are  not  clearly  defined  in  Oregon  law.   Two  of  the  big  ones  are  “pecuniary  loss”  and  “society,  companionship  and  services.”     “Pecuniary  loss”  certainly  includes  all  the  money  that  a  person  would  have  earned  during   his  or  her  lifetime,  minus  the  money  that  would  have  been  spent  on  his  self  or  her  self.   “Pecuniary”  simply  means  related  to  money.  Figuring  out  that  number  requires  hiring  an   economist  who  specializes  in  this  type  of  calculation.  The  economist  will  look  at  the   person’s  education,  history,  tax  returns,  and  so  forth,  and  will  determine  that  the  person   would  have  made  a  certain  amount  of  money  over  the  course  of  a  normal  lifetime.  You  do   not  need  to  worry  about  hiring  experts  like  economists  –  these  tasks  will  be  taken  care  of   by  the  law  firm  you  hire  to  represent  the  estate.       Economic  and  Non-­Economic  Damages       In  personal  injury  cases,  there  are  two  basic  forms  of  “damages”  a  client  may  recover:   economic  and  non-­‐economic  damages.  Some  lawyers  will  refer  to  them  as  "general"  and   "special"  damages,  but  the  correct  terms  are  economic  and  non-­‐economic  damages.  While   most  wrongful  death  damages  are  determined  by  law  using  the  criteria  defined  earlier  (see   the  ORS  30.020  damages  described  above),  these  two  types  of  damages  must  be   understood  as  well.       “Economic  damages”  is  the  compensation  you  can  receive  in  place  of  any  money  you  have   lost  due  to  the  death  of  your  loved  one.  Non-­‐economic  damages  are  more  abstract,  and  are  
  12. 12. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     11   often  referred  to  as  "pain  and  suffering."     ORS  31.710  limits  the  amount  that  may  be  awarded  for  non-­‐economic  damages  in  any   injury  or  death  case  in  Oregon.  The  Oregon  Supreme  Court  has  found  this  law  to  be   unconstitutional  as  it  applies  to  injury  cases,  but  has  upheld  it  when  applied  to  wrongful   death  cases.  The  absurd  result  of  this  is  that  non-­‐economic  damages  are  limited  to   $500,000  in  a  wrongful  death  case,  even  though  there  is  no  limit  in  an  injury  case  that  did   not  result  in  death.     “Non-­‐economic”  damages  are  subjective,  nonmonetary  losses,  such  as  the  pain  and   suffering  endured  after  the  injury  but  before  death,  the  loss  of  care,  comfort,  and   companionship,  and  so  on.  This  $500,000  limit  is  one  reason  why  your  lawyer  may   recommend  bringing  the  case  in  another  state  or  under  Federal  law  (instead  of  state  law)  –   the  change  of  venue  may  allow  for  a  higher  award.  However,  in  most  deaths  that  occurred   in  Oregon,  neither  of  these  will  be  possible,  so  the  $500,000  limit  on  non-­‐economic   damages  often  applies.     Punitive  Damages     Punitive  damages  are  difficult  to  prove.  You  are  not  allowed  to  even  ask  for  them  until  after   you  show  a  judge  that  you  have  good  reason  to.  Then  you  have  to  prove  it  at  a  very  high   level  of  proof  called  “clear  and  convincing”  proof.  And  even  if  you  win  and  the  jury  awards   punitive  damages,  the  insurance  company  will  often  appeal  the  punitive  damages,  and  the   U.S.  Supreme  Court  has  gotten  more  and  more  hostile  to  high  punitive  damages  awards,  so   if  the  award  is  quite  high,  it  will  often  be  reduced  on  appeal.   As  if  that  weren’t  bad  enough,  in  Oregon  the  State  takes  70%  of  any  punitive  damages   award.  Your  lawyer  will  then  take  20%  as  a  fee  (less  than  the  normal  fee  of  33%  to  40%),   leaving  the  beneficiaries  with  only  10%.  That  10%  is  then  taxable,  so  the  final  amount  in   the  pocket  of  the  beneficiary  may  be  as  little  as  5%  and  will  never  be  more  than  10%.  
  13. 13. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     12   Chapter  6:  What  is  the  Value  of  My  Wrongful  Death  Claim?       What  is  a  life  worth?  What  is  the  value,  in  dollars,  of  the  loss  of  a  father,  a  wife,  a   grandparent,  or  a  child?     There  is  of  course  no  answer  to  this  question.  The  value  of  a  life  is  not  measured  in  dollars.   But  even  though  this  is  true  –  and  obviously  true  at  that  –  the  law  cannot  accept  this   answer.  Why?  Because  if  we  accept  that  the  legal  value  of  a  life  is  not  measurable  in  dollars,   then  the  practical  outcome  becomes  that  the  dollar  value  of  the  loss  of  that  life  is  valued  at   $0.00.  And  even  though  a  life  should  not  be  measured  in  dollars,  we  do  know  one  thing  for   sure:  it’s  not  worth  zero.   So  what  do  we  do?  How  can  we  put  a  dollar  value  on  the  lost  life?  If  we  accept  that  valuing   the  life  in  dollars,  and  then  forcing  that  amount  to  be  paid,  is  some  justice  (not  full  justice,   of  course,  but  some  justice,  and  a  whole  lot  better  than  zero  justice)  if  we  accept  that,  we   still  have  to  figure  out  what  that  dollar  figure  is.   We  know  that  the  calculations  we  use  to  figure  out  the  value  will  have  to  be  flexible,   because  a  lot  of  things  can  be  included  in  an  award  that  “justly,  fairly,  and  reasonably”   compensates  family  members  for  their  loss.  There  is  not  going  to  be  a  mathematical   formula,  but  there  are  several  traits  that  can  help  us  begin  to  form  the  basis  for  an   evaluation.   If  you  go  back  and  look  at  the  last  chapter,  and  fill  in  the  reality  of  your  loved  one’s  life  for   each  of  these  bullet  points  that  the  law  says  are  used  to  determine  the  compensation,  you   will  have  a  start.  But  there  is  still  no  clear  guidance  for  what  those  figures  should  be.   It  will  also  matter  what  kind  of  a  person  the  decedent  was:   • How  s/he  treated  people   • What  his/her  relationships  with  others  were  like   • Whether  s/he  donated  to  charity   • Was  s/he  a  good  parent   • Etc.,  etc.,  etc.     Some  people  think  that  sort  of  thing  shouldn’t  matter,  because  a  life  simply  has  intrinsic   value,  but  that’s  not  how  the  law  has  developed.  The  law  has  developed  such  that  a   person’s  relationships  and  character  matter  a  lot  when  it  comes  to  the  value  of  a  claim.     Here’s  the  way  that  our  society  figures  out  what  a  life  is  worth:  we  carefully  choose  twelve   people  to  sit  on  a  jury,  and  have  them  listen  to  many  witnesses  tell  stories  of  the  deceased’s   life.  Then  those  twelve  deliberate  until  they’ve  decided  how  much  that  life  was  worth.  This   is  a  system  designed  to  be  fair  to  all  parties  involved,  and  although  the  personalities  of  the   twelve,  individually  and  as  a  group,  make  predicting  any  specific  outcome  difficult,  this   system  actually  has  a  lot  of  merit.     Because  each  trial  will  have  a  different  jury,  it  is  impossible  to  say  with  any  absolutes  how   much  a  personal  injury  claim  will  be  “worth.”   It’s  important  to  know,  however,  that  something  like  99%  of  cases  never  go  to  a  jury  trial.   We,  as  lawyers,  decide  how  much  these  cases  are  “worth”  by  trying  to  figure  out  what  a  
  14. 14. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     13   jury  would  say.  We  look  at  other  similar  cases  in  the  past,  see  what  juries  awarded  in  those,   and  make  our  best  estimate  based  on  every  detail  we  know  about  the  situation,  the  medical   records,  any  laws  that  apply,  the  personalities  and  histories  of  the  people  involved,  the   evidence  regarding  whose  fault  the  accident  was,  the  policy  limits,  and  so  forth.     In  fact,  so  very  many  things  matter,  that  it’s  really  not  possible  to  figure  out  what  a  case  is   worth  until  an  extensive  investigation  has  been  done.  But  of  course,  there  are  guidelines.   Here’s  one:  the  case  is  probably  worth  less  than  you  think,  but  more  than  the  insurance   adjuster  is  willing  to  pay.   Unfortunately,  there  is  not  a  more  concrete  guide.  The  plain  truth  is  that  every  case  is   different,  and  no  lawyer  can  value  a  case  until  they  know  all  of  the  facts.  At  that  point,  good   lawyers  can  use  their  experience,  and  the  experience  of  other  lawyers  they  trust  and  with   whom  they  would  discuss  the  case,  to  figure  out  as  best  they  can  what  they  believe  the  case   is  worth.  In  some  situations,  lawyers  will  even  put  together  focus  groups  of  unbiased   individuals  to  serve  on  a  mock  jury,  and  use  that  to  help  determine  what  the  case  might  be   worth  at  trial.  There  is  so  much  that  goes  into  it,  and  there  is  never  a  simple  answer.  But  we   hope  we  have  given  you  a  taste  of  what  is  involved.    
  15. 15. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     14   Chapter  7:  Who  are  the  Beneficiaries  in  a  Wrongful  Death  Case?       A  wrongful  death  claim  is  brought  by  a  personal  representative  for  the  benefit  of  certain   "beneficiaries."  Exactly  who  qualifies  as  a  "beneficiary"  is  defined  by  the  law.     Note  that  the  person  who  can  "bring  the  lawsuit"  is  not  the  same  as  the  people  who  can   "benefit  from  the  lawsuit."  The  “beneficiaries”  are  the  people  who  are  allowed  to  receive   money  from  a  wrongful  death  lawsuit  after  the  claim  has  been  brought  by  the  personal   representative.     Here's  who  the  law  says  can  be  a  beneficiary  of  a  wrongful  death  lawsuit:  "spouse,   surviving  children,  surviving  parents  and  other  individuals,  if  any,  who  under  the  law  of   intestate  succession  of  the  state  of  the  decedent’s  domicile  would  be  entitled  to  inherit  the   personal  property  of  the  decedent,  and  for  the  benefit  of  any  stepchild  or  stepparent   whether  that  stepchild  or  stepparent  would  be  entitled  to  inherit  the  personal  property  of   the  decedent  or  not."  In  most  cases,  the  legalese  mouthful  at  the  end  of  this  sentence  is   irrelevant,  and  the  beneficiaries  will  be  the  spouse,  children,  and  parents.     How  is  the  Money  Divided  Between  Beneficiaries?     How  is  the  money  shared?  If  a  man  dies  leaving  behind  a  widow,  two  children,  and  his   mother,  how  is  any  money  split?  Ideally,  this  is  determined  by  agreement  of  all  the   beneficiaries  and  the  personal  representative,  and  if  the  decedent  left  a  will,  the  terms  of   that  can  sometimes  matter  as  well.  If  all  the  beneficiaries  can  agree  (and  if  the  children  are   18  or  over  –  more  on  this  soon),  then  the  split  they  agree  upon  will  usually  work  just  fine.  A   judge  has  to  approve  the  split,  but  a  judge  will  almost  always  go  along  with  a  split  that  is   agreed  upon  by  everyone  with  a  legal  right  to  the  proceeds.     If  any  of  the  beneficiaries  is  under  18  years  old,  then  a  judge  may  appoint  a  lawyer  as  a   conservator  to  represent  each  child  in  negotiating  the  apportionment.  This  is  not  always   necessary;  sometimes  the  minor’s  parent  can  negotiate  on  behalf  of  the  child,  and  so  long   as  it  is  done  fairly,  the  judge  will  allow  it.   If  all  beneficiaries  cannot  agree  on  how  to  split  the  proceeds,  then  each  person  can  argue   his  or  her  case  to  the  judge.  The  standard  that  the  judge  will  use  is  that  the  proceeds  should   be  apportioned  “in  accordance  with  the  beneficiary’s  loss.”  What  exactly  that  means  is  left   to  the  judge’s  discretion,  which  not  only  can  be  frustrating,  but  also  destructive,  because  it   leaves  the  mourning  survivors  to  fight  about  who  was  closer  to  the  deceased  person,  and   about  who  “lost”  more  when  the  person  died.     To  summarize,  proceeds  will  usually  be  split  among  the  spouse,  children,  and  parents  of  the   decedent.  “Children”  includes  stepchildren,  and  “parents”  includes  stepparents.  If  none  of   these  people  are  still  alive,  then  it  will  get  complicated.  If  the  person  who  passed  away  lived   in  a  state  other  than  Oregon,  then  that  state’s  law  has  to  be  consulted.  If  all  the  beneficiaries   can  agree  on  the  amounts  of  the  split,  then  the  judge  will  usually  approve  the  agreed-­‐upon   split.    
  16. 16. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     15   Chapter  8:  How  Do  I  Hire  a  Wrongful  Death  Attorney?  How  Much  Will  It  Cost?     Guidelines  for  finding  a  good  wrongful  death  attorney:     1. Ask  around.  Getting  a  referral  from  someone  you  trust  can  be  an  excellent  place  to   start  when  you’re  looking  for  a  lawyer.     2. Find  an  expert.  Specialists  beat  generalists,  so  you  probably  want  a  lawyer  who   specifically  focuses  on  personal  injury  and  wrongful  death.     3. Meet  with  all  potential  lawyers.  Don’t  sign  anything  until  you’ve  met  and   discussed  your  case  with  several  possible  attorneys.  A  good  attorney  is  someone   you  will  trust  and  feel  comfortable  with.   4. Take  a  look  at  the  Client  Bill  of  Rights.  Many  attorneys  will  have  this  written   down  in  some  form  or  other.  Those  who  don’t  should  be  able  to  tell  you  verbally.     5. Make  sure  your  lawyer  is  willing  to  go  to  trial  if  you  do  not  get  a  reasonable   offer.  Of  course,  the  lawyer  and  the  deceased’s  family  may  not  always  see  eye-­‐to-­‐eye   on  what  constitutes  a  good  offer,  but  if  the  offer  is  objectively  unreasonable,  your   lawyer  must  be  willing  to  go  to  trial.     6. Have  your  attorney  explain  all  fees  and  costs  up  front.  You  don’t  want  any   surprises,  especially  unexpected  fees.   7. Look  for  a  lawyer  who  is  a  member  of  the  Oregon  Trial  Lawyers  Association   (OTLA)  and  the  American  Association  of  Justice  (AAJ,  formerly  ATLA).   Membership  in  these  organizations  shows  that  your  lawyer  is  proud  of  what  he  or   she  does,  cares  about  justice,  and  is  willing  to  put  money  and  time  towards  the   cause  of  justice  in  Oregon  (OTLA)  and  the  entire  U.S.A.  (AAJ).     8. Find  out  about  a  lawyer’s  caseload.  If  the  “personal  touch”  is  important  to  you,   ask  lawyers  about  how  many  cases  they  handle  at  a  time.     9. Make  sure  your  lawyer  is  interested  in  educating  you.  Some  attorneys  just  want   to  take  your  case  and  never  talk  to  you,  but  for  most  people,  an  attorney  who  will   guide  you  through  each  step  of  the  process  will  be  a  better  choice.     10. Make  sure  your  lawyer  has  adequate  malpractice  insurance.  Every  lawyer  in   Oregon  is  required  to  carry  at  least  $300,000  in  malpractice  insurance.  A  careful   lawyer  who  takes  wrongful  death  cases  will  carry  much  more  than  that.       Attorneys  and  Contingency  Fees   To  put  it  in  the  simplest  terms  possible,  a  contingency  fee  agreement  means  if  the  lawyer   takes  your  case  and  doesn’t  win,  it  costs  you  nothing  in  attorneys’  fees.  The  result  must  go   in  your  favor,  and  only  then  does  your  lawyer  receive  a  fee.  This  does  not  include  the  costs   of  the  case,  only  attorneys’  fees,  but  you  can  discuss  the  possible  costs  with  the  attorney   before  hiring  him  or  her.  And,  in  most  cases,  when  the  case  is  successful  all  the  costs  will  be   paid  out  of  the  award  so  that  having  an  attorney  will  not  cost  you  anything  at  all  out  of   pocket.     The  lawyers  get  paid  when  you  get  paid.  The  contingency  fee  agreement  will  stipulate  an   amount  the  lawyer  is  to  be  paid  once  your  case  has  been  won  –  usually  a  percentage  of  the   final  award.  Your  costs  will  also  come  out  of  the  settlement  if  successful,  so  there  should  be  
  17. 17. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     16   no  surprises  in  terms  of  payment.       In  addition,  rules  are  in  place  which  state  that  lawyers  can  only  charge  a  “reasonable”  fee.   Those  rules  vary  from  place  to  place  and  are  based  on  the  “rules  of  professional  conduct,”   but  in  Oregon,  any  “clearly  unreasonably  fee”  is  illegal.       Clients  have  very  little  to  lose  with  a  contingency  fee  agreement.  People  who  could  never   normally  afford  to  go  forward  with  legal  proceedings  can  have  their  day  in  court  without   fear  of  the  expense  involved.       Once  a  fee  agreement  has  been  signed,  the  attorneys  agree  to  front  all  costs  of  the  case  for   the  client.  This  means  all  expenses  will  be  paid  by  the  law  firm,  not  the  client,  with  the   understanding  that  these  expenses  will  later  be  reimbursed  by  the  settlement.  Wrongful   death  cases  can  be  especially  expensive,  and  going  to  trial  can  costs  tens  of  thousands,  so   this  allows  a  client  to  work  with  an  attorney  without  any  upfront  payment.    
  18. 18. Shulman  DuBois  LLC   PDXinjurylaw.com     17   Conclusion   Thank  you  for  taking  the  time  to  educate  yourself.  You’ve  already  taken  a  step  to  help  your   family.  If  you  still  feel  overwhelmed,  don’t  worry  –  you  are  not  alone.  Many  people  have   successfully  navigated  wrongful  death  suits  before,  and  if  you  decide  this  is  the  best  route   for  you  and  your  family,  we  believe  you  can  do  the  same.       To  that  end,  we  are  always  available  if  you  have  questions.  Our  firm  prides  itself  on   educating  our  clients  and  the  community  about  Oregon  laws,  so  if  you  have  questions,   please  do  not  hesitate  to  call  us  at  503-­‐222-­‐4411  or  email  us  at  info@pdxinjurylaw.com.  No   charge  and  no  sales  pitch,  we  promise.  Or,  if  you  want  to  know  more  about  Oregon   wrongful  death  laws,  our  website  is  www.pdxinjurylaw.com.       We  wish  you  and  your  family  all  the  best,  and  we  hope  this    report  has  been  helpful  as  you   continue  to  heal  from  the  death  of  your  loved  one.       -­‐  Joshua  Shulman  and  Sean  DuBois,  Attorneys  at  Law   Portland,  Oregon  

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