The following blog article was updated in January 2022.
$2.5 Million For Family Of Teenager Killed In Jet-Ski Collision
Zac Springer’s mother contacted Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner attorney Dean Brett to seek a second opinion after her initial lawyer advised that the claim was not worth pursuing. Since her son Zac had died in a jet-ski accident and there was no automobile insurance available, he concluded that the claim had no recoverable value. Dean Brett determined that homeowners insurance provided coverage for the homeowner’s failure to supervise the use of a jet ski while the family was on vacation. The Estate of Zachary Springer recovered $2.5 million for his tragic death in the jet-ski accident.
The claim arose when Zac Springer was invited to accompany a friend and his father on vacation to Lake Powell, Utah. Utah law requires that minors use jet skis only after being trained and certified, and then only under close adult supervision. Instead of supervising Zac and his friend, the father partied while letting the 15-year-old boys ride the jet skis, contrary to the rental contract, the laws of Utah, and common sense.
The tragedy occurred on the afternoon of the first full day of the vacation. The two boys took the jet skis out around 5:00 p.m. This vacation was Zac’s first use of a jet ski ever, and he was operating with absolutely no adult supervision more than a mile from the anchored houseboats. The boys were operating their jet skis at about 25 mph when Zac’s friend t-boned Zac’s jet ski, which then stopped in the water. Zac was hit and knocked off the jet-ski. His friend jumped into the water to hold the unconscious boy afloat. They were in the water together for nearly 30 minutes before help arrived.
The claim was brought under Utah’s wrongful death statute. Recoverable damages included funeral and medical expenses, the value of services the decedent might have rendered to the household, the amount of money the deceased child might have earned, and the loss of society, companionship, protection, and affection.
The recovery came from the entire policy limits of the friend’s father’s homeowners’ policy, a source of recovery only found when Zac’s mother sought a second opinion at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner Law.
The Estate of Zachary Springer recovered $2.5 million for his tragic death in the jet-ski accident.
Largest Wrongful Death Jury Verdict in Skagit County History at the Time
Settlement Amount: $2,300,000
Early one November morning, following heavy rains, a massive mudslide roared down Lookout Mountain into Cascade River Park, a recreational development in eastern Skagit County. Bill Bower, 74, Alice Bower, 73, and Betsy Jean Wilson, 63, were killed instantly. Claire Wilson, 64, was buried alive for 13 hours before he was pulled from the debris; he died 13 days later.
The attorneys representing the families of the deceased were Dean Brett, Dave Svaren of Burlington’s Twede & Svaren, and John Ward of Sedro Woolley.
Since the mudslide originated from an old logging road that had been abandoned for 23 years, how could the jury be convinced to hold the state liable for a defect in a road built in the 40’s and not used since 1962?
The attorneys focused on the Department of Natural Resources’ practice of not inspecting or maintaining old logging roads which had been abandoned before the 1974 Forest Practices Act.
The DNR admitted to the lack of inspections but argued that since there are thousands of miles of old logging roads, it would be impractical or impossible to inspect or maintain all of them.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys enlisted the help of a geomorphologist, a climatologist, a forest hydrologist, and a forester to prove that the landslide was caused in part by negligence by the DNR.
The DNR blamed the mudslide on channel changes so recent that reasonable inspection could not have been expected to find them. The plaintiffs created videotapes on the site, aerial photography, and professional photography which demonstrated that the drainage diversion had existed for more than 10 years.
The jury returned a verdict of $500,000 for each death, plus $250,000 for pain and suffering for the 13 days of Claire Wilson’s hospitalization.
$1 Million – Wrongful Death of Teenage Pedestrian Hit by Tow Truck
A towing company hired a driver with criminal convictions for crimes including Possession of Marijuana, Driving While License Suspended, Forgery, Theft, and Delivery of a Controlled Substance. While impaired, the driver drove his tow truck north on Zell Road in excess of the speed limit. He drifted over the center line and struck Landen Harless, a 14-year-old boy who was walking on the other lane.
The driver was prosecuted for negligent homicide. While the criminal case was being processed, attorney Dean Brett proceeded with a wrongful-death claim against the towing company for negligently entrusting the tow truck to the driver.
After extensive negotiations, the tow company settled the wrongful death claim for $1 million.
After the settlement was reached, the negligent homicide criminal case proceeded to trial. The defendant was able to convince the jury that there was a reasonable doubt about whether his intoxication had caused the injury, or whether the death had been caused by the boys walking on the traveled portion of the roadway. Consequently, the driver was found not guilty.
While the effect of a not guilty verdict would have been devastating to the wrongful-death claim, because the claim was promptly settled for $1,000,000, the family was able to close the personal injury claim without the heart-wrenching process of trying the case after the defendant had been found not guilty in the criminal arena.
Teen Boy Killed In Motorcycle Collision With Freight Train Negligently Parked On Road
At 11 p.m. one evening, 16-year-old Jody Holz was riding his 750cc Yamaha motorcycle on a little-traveled road in Whatcom County. Burlington Northern had parked a freight train with a black tank car across the county road. Jody collided with the tank car and died.
Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner attorney Dean Brett took on the case for Jody’s family.
The primary issue turned out to be whether the train was “plainly visible” to the approaching motorcyclist. By court order, Burlington Northern was forced to provide a tank car for accident reconstruction. An identical motorcycle was brought to the scene, and a professional photographer took photos of the tank car illuminated only by the motorcycle’s headlight from 50 to 450 feet back from the tank car. A videotape was then produced showing each black and white photograph measured at exact one-second intervals. When played back, the videotape thus created “the last nine seconds of Jody Holz’s life.” The train became visible only for the last two seconds or 100 feet, far too late to avoid the collision.
Throughout the trial, Burlington Northern denied negligence, denied that the industry standard was applicable, and claimed it was merely a rule to ensure that emergency vehicles are not impeded. The jury found Burlington Northern 95% responsible for the collision.
Whatcom County was also brought into the lawsuit because the county failed to place railroad pavement markings, and that the county failed to illuminate the railroad crossing. The jury assessed 2.5% of the responsibility for the collision against Whatcom County.
Defendants Burlington Northern and Whatcom County tried to establish contributory negligence by claiming that Jody was riding without a helmet, with defective brakes, with headlights inappropriately placed in the dim position, and at an excessive rate of speed. The jury found Jody 2.5% negligent.
The total verdict was $752,600.
Largest Wrongful Death Jury Verdict in Kittitas County History
Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner attorney Dean Brett’s client Amar Dosanjh was killed while on the job, and the defendant, Baljit Bhatti, who was killed in the same accident, was Mr. Dosanjh’s employee, hired as a co-driver in his long haul trucking company. Bhatti negligently drove off the road, rolled the truck, and killed both himself and Amar.
Dean faced a real challenge as he launched a wrongful-death claim for Amar’s widow. Dean knew that the jury might not be sympathetic because of the circumstance that the marriage had been arranged. In fact, Malkiat Dosanjh was sent to Vancouver to marry Amar Dosanjh by her parents, and she had not met her husband-to-be until she walked down the aisle.
Dean met this challenge by presenting the jury with information and witnesses to support the concept and traditional success of arranged marriages in Sikh culture, and by providing witnesses who demonstrated that the couple’s marriage was a strong and supportive one.
The jury returned a verdict totaling $800,000: $75,000 each to the widow, the son, and the daughter, $75,000 in pain and suffering in anticipation of death, and $500,000 in lost earning capacity.
The verdict was thus several-fold greater than the largest personal injury or wrongful death verdict ever before recovered in Kittitas County.