THEIR VIEW: Man has good argument in case against family over brother's death

By The West Virginia Record | Nov 22, 2013



Recently, the brother of a deceased man filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a family, claiming that their negligence led to the brother's death.

The deceased man was classified as a "low-functioning adult" with unspecified mental impairments for which he received Supplemental Security Insurance income. However, he was able to perform odd jobs in order to earn extra income. Many of these jobs were for the Gorman family in Jackson County, and included such tasks as gathering debris, mowing the lawn, and removing weeds.

Yet the past December, the Gormans trusted their worker with a more difficult task: operating their tractor. At the time, he lacked a license to operate a motor vehicle due to his disability. He drove the tractor as directed, but soon hit an incline, causing the tractor to overturn onto him. The worker died soon after at the age of 28.

The deceased man's brother argues that the Gormans should have known that their worker could not have safely operated the tractor, given that he lacked even the ability to ride a bicycle. The surviving brother claims that as a result of his brother's death, he has endured not only pain and suffering, but also expenses, including medical bills and funeral costs. He seeks to recover damages for his general suffering and for the specific expenses incurred.

According to West Virginia Code section 17A-3-2, machinery like farm tractors are exempted from requirements of registration or certification of ownership that other vehicles such as cars must meet, but that does not mean people are not required to operate them safely.

Driving any vehicle, including heavy machinery like a tractor, requires reasonable care and skill. Since it appears that the deceased brother was incapable of determining whether he had the necessary skills, a good argument exists that those who urged him to drive the tractor, if they were aware of the extent of his disabilities, acted unreasonably.

In cases where another person's unreasonable behavior causes injury or death, the injured party, or the injured party's estate, has the option of filing a lawsuit. The argument would be that the other party had a duty to engage in reasonable behavior that could foreseeably apply to the injured party; the other party breached that duty by engaging in unreasonable behavior; the breach resulted in the injured party's injury; and as a result of the injury, the injured party suffered damage or death. The injured/deceased party or his/her estate can collect a monetary award as long as the injured/deceased party's fault for the accident amounted to less than 50 percent.

The Wolfe Law Firm is an Elkins personal injury firm founded by Dorwin Wolfe. This editorial appeared on the firm’s blog.

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