As reported by the News & Advance, a Virginia jury awarded the family of a choking victim more than $350,000 in wrongful death damages.
In October 2015, 56-year-old Melvin McKenzie died on a B&S Xpress van after choking on a piece of cake that the driver had left in the van. McKenzie had a severe intellectual disability and was living in a group home at the time. He was on the van to return to the group home after a supervised day outing.
In January of 2016, Cynthia Perkins, McKenzie’s sister, filed the wrongful death claim due to the negligence involved in her brother’s death. In that suit, she named the transportation company responsible for the van, the van driver, and the owner of the transportation company individually. it took the three-man, four-woman jury around an hour and a half of deliberation to return with the verdict at the end of the trial, which took place over two days.
During the trial, jurors heard from the victim’s siblings, experts in para-transit and non-emergency medical transportation, and workers from various agencies who had previously interacted with McKenzie. One significant factor here was McKenzie’s food compulsion, which witnesses stated would lead him to eat and steal food at various times. Both the van driver and the van company’s owner claimed they were unaware of his food compulsion, with the owner saying she may have refused to transport McKenzie if it had been documented with her transit company.
As part of the evidence presented in the case, jurors learned that the victim’s funeral expenses came to more than $9,500, while his medical bills exceeded $335,000. McKenzie was hospitalized at the University of Virginia Health System and Lynchburg General Hospital for over a month following the incident. His sister ultimately decide to remove life support.
Judge Ed Burnette found that the van driver was negligent when he left McKenzie alone on the van, and he gave that information to the jury ahead of closing arguments. At that point, the jury had to decide whether this negligence was a factor in McKenzie’s death and determine the amount of damages that were warranted. In addition to covering the medical and funeral expenses documented by McKenzie’s family, the jury also awarded the family $15,000 for sorrow, mental anguish and solace, with $5,000 each going to his three siblings and sole beneficiaries.
After the jury’s decision was heard, his sister spoke on behalf of the family, saying that justice had been served for her brother and that was all the family wanted in this case.
Careless, reckless actions and negligent behaviors can truly harm others and even end lives. While a wrongful death award will never replace the loss of a loved one, it can serve as a deterrent to others who are engaging in the same or similar behaviors. If someone you love has died because of the behavior or inaction of another person or entity, speak to a wrongful death lawyer Denver CO families can turn to about your case today.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Richard J. Banta, P.C. for their insight into wrongful death and personal injury practice.