Fatal Accident Spurs Lawsuit, Painting Vivid Example of Legal Liability

Tragedy Strikes in an Illinois Park

Last spring, a strange accident took the life of an Illinois man. Derek Posey and two coworkers were taking a break from their community service park work in a unique place: the bucket of an Illinois Department of Natural Resources construction tractor.

Unbeknownst to Posey and his compatriots, disaster was about to strike. A car driven by 20-year-old Eduardo Lopez careened into the parking lot. Later found to be under the influence of cannabis and methamphetamine, Lopez slammed into the tractor containing the workers.

All three tumbled from the tractor bucket, but Posey landed in a particularly inopportune location. He found himself between Lopez's out-of-control vehicle and a state of Illinois pickup work truck. Lopez managed to avoid hitting Posey directly, but his vehicle did impact the rear of the pickup truck. The truck turned violently, striking Posey; he never left the parking lot alive. His young son, Brendan, was left under the guardianship of Lana Spencer, Posey's girlfriend.

As is often the case in the wake of unforeseen tragedy, Posey's survivors were caught in the grips of financial hardship. But, as the details of the accident emerged, a possible avenue to the compensation they needed presented itself.

In early 2012, Lana Spencer, acting as the guardian of Brendan Posey and the administrator of Derek Posey's estate, engaged an Illinois fatal accident lawyer and filed a lawsuit, suing Lopez, the owner of the vehicle Lopez was driving, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the state of Illinois. She is asking for a judgment totaling more than $200,000.

The Anatomy of Liability in Serious Accidents

Ms. Spencer's lawsuit distributes fault for the accident among several parties. Her legal action provides a good roadmap of who parties in similar situations can typically turn to in order to collect monetary damages.

Most obviously, Ms. Spencer's suit places responsibility for the death with the driver of the errant car, Lopez. The case file alleges that Lopez's collision with the tractor was an intentional action; in civil wrongful death suits, liability can arise from acts or omissions that are either intentional, or negligent.

In legal proceedings, "intentional" is a term of art with a more nuanced meaning than the general colloquial use of the word. Intentional torts are civil wrongs committed in the course of an act the defendant meant to commence. The defendant did not have to intend to cause the harm that resulted from his or her act - all that is required is intent to perform the act itself. This means Lopez could be found intentionally liable for the death if he meant to drive in a dangerous manner while impaired (the natural consequence of which is causing a serious collision) even if he did not want Posey to die as a result. For those injured by impaired drivers, or the family members of those killed, a lawsuit for monetary damages might be a possibility against the other driver, whether he or she acted intentionally or simply negligently.

Ms. Spencer also named the owner of the vehicle Lopez was driving as a defendant. Even when not present at the scene of an accident, vehicle owners can be held responsible for resulting damages under a number of circumstances. Perhaps the owner allowed an obviously impaired driver to get behind the wheel in violation of a duty to do otherwise. Or, maybe the owner neglected to perform standard maintenance required to keep the vehicle in a drivable condition, and this failure contributed to the accident. Whenever a vehicle owner's safety oversight contributes to an accident, he or she can be held responsible in a court of law. Suits against vehicle owners are especially common for those injuries that arise out of a commercial truck accident.

What about the claims against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the state of Illinois? Spencer's suit alleges that the state and its agency were negligent in failing to rope off the area where state vehicles were parked and for not warning Posey that it was hazardous to sit in the bucket of the tractor. These claims provide a good example of how certain third parties that may not be intuitively implicated in a wrongful death claim may actually bear at least partial responsibility. Was someone responsible for warning of a potential danger? Should someone have taken steps to address safety issues? Did a critical piece of infrastructure, like a roadway or a parking lot, feature an unsafe design that contributed to the accident in some way? These are the types of questions plaintiffs should ask themselves in determining who else may be at fault for an injury or death.

What Types of Compensation May a Plaintiff Receive?

In a suit for wrongful death like the one being pursued by Lana Spencer, a variety of damages may be permitted. Compensation for any medical expenses, pain and suffering experienced by the decent between the time of injury and the death, and funeral or burial expenses are typically recoverable. Those responsible for the death may also have to pay survivors for the loss of financial support from the decedent, the loss of domestic services provided by the decent, and the loss of guidance and companionship. In cases of extreme wrongdoing, punitive damages may even be levied.

For cases in which injury resulted from an accident but the victim did not perish, similar types of damages are recoverable (compensation for wages lost due to an inability to work, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, etc.). Of course, some types of damages, like those for funeral costs, are exclusive to wrongful death claims.

Addressing Serious Accidents

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident, you are not alone. Tragedies like the one that took Derek Posey occur all too frequently, and there are resources available to help you through your time of need. Contact an Illinois personal injury attorney to learn more about getting compensation from those responsible for an accident.