After the death of a family member, life can be confusing and overwhelming for the relatives who must face the loss. There are many different ways to respond to and cope with the loss of a loved one. One response may not be obvious or an easy choice: filing a wrongful death claim. However, it may offer the best resolution to a family who has suffered a significant loss of emotional and financial security.

One New York family made this choice and decided to file a wrongful death action after the death of their loved one. The 58-year-old father died in late 2011. He was working on a tugboat at the time of his death during a swing maneuver. He was apparently squeezed to death after being caught in the capstan on the tugboat.

The United States Coast Guard and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held that the towing company was not responsible for the man’s death. In the face of this finding, his widow decided to sue the company in federal court for wrongful death. The judge presiding over the matter disagreed with the government agencies’ findings and found that the towing company was responsible. Accordingly, the judge awarded the man’s family over $2 million. The judge identified the company’s inadequate safety procedures and training as the main factors that led to the father’s death.

This tragic tugboat incident has an important lesson: families should not be deterred by others’ findings regarding family members’ deaths. Under the law, government agency investigations and determinations do not necessarily come into consideration in a civil action for wrongful death. Thus, a family should not be discouraged by investigative reports and findings. There is a different burden of proof in civil actions: a preponderance of the evidence. Often, this is a lower standard under which families can more easily recover damages.

Thus, the New York family’s situation is not unique. A significant award of damages may be available to other families who have suffered a tragic loss.

Source: Greenwich Time, “Judge: New Canaan towing firm at fault in deckhand’s death,” Tim Loh, Nov. 18, 2013