Wrongful death case fizzles, defendant pays funeral expenses

By John O'Brien | Jun 10, 2013

HUNTINGTON – The estate of a man who was killed in a head-on collision will collect only funeral expenses in a settlement recently reached with Sperry Rail, Inc.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers on May 28 approved a settlement between the Estate of Larry David Ratliff and Sperry Rail, which owns the rail truck involved in the collision with Ratliff in 2010.

Ratliff died on Feb. 1, 2010, in an early morning collision on Route 52 in Wayne County.

“The court finds that the parties have litigated this matter and given the facts developed during the course of discovery, liability is doubtful at best,” Chambers wrote.

“The Wayne County Sheriff’s Department investigated the accident and determined that the plaintiff’s decedent was at fault. Discovery developed through the course of litigation has reinforced the initial conclusions of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.

“Proceeding forward to trial on a case with little prospect of recovery would not be in the best interest of Plaintiff and would be financially burdensome and expensive for Defendants.”

Sperry will pay the estate $6,511, the cost of funeral expenses. The funeral home has already been paid $1,800, so that amount will be split among five of Ratliff’s children.

Ratliff’s father, also named Larry, represented the estate.

The wrongful death complaint was filed on behalf of the estate by attorneys Timothy Koontz and Mark Underwood on Jan. 24, 2012, in Wayne Circuit Court. The case was later removed to federal court.

In December, Underwood and Koontz moved to withdraw themselves from the case when it was discovered the point of impact of the crash was in the southbound lane, indicating Ratliff was at fault for the wreck.

Continuing representation of Ratliff’s estate would violate Rule 3.1 of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Responsibility regarding meritorious claims, Underwood and Koontz determined.

Chambers granted their motion in January.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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