Wrongful death is a civil charge whereby the personal representative or next of kin of the deceased may bring a lawsuit against a party who may have contributed to the death of the deceased. There are several famous wrongful death cases — the most famous being the O.J. Simpson civil trial for the death of Ronald Goldman from 1997, which took place after he was acquitted of his murder. There are other wrongful death cases of note, however, including the Melinda Ducket case, the Brynn Hartman case, and the Ford Pinto case.
In the O.J. Simpson wrongful death case, which was brought by Ronald Goldman’s family, Simpson was found liable for the willful and wrongful death of Ronald Goldman. Though Simpson was already acquitted of Goldman's murder — because the burden of proof is simply a “preponderance of the evidence” in a civil trial as opposed to the “reasonable doubt” standard in criminal trials — it was easier to establish Simpson’s liability than it was to establish guilt in the criminal trial. Further, Simpson’s attorneys did a poor job of refuting the evidence of his DNA at the scene of the crime, and a parade of witnesses who implicated him in Goldman’s death. In the end, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in Goldman’s favor, ordering Simpson to pay in excess of $20 million US dollars (USD) to Goldman’s family.
After appearing on former prosecutor Nancy Grace’s television show and facing aggressive questioning implying that she murdered her own child, Melinda Duckett committed suicide. Duckett’s parents then brought a lawsuit against Grace. The suit alleged that Grace’s implication that Duckett was responsible for the death of her child caused emotional distress leading to her suicide. The case was settled in 2010 with the creation of a $200,000 (USD) trust dedicated to the child, who has never been found.
In 1998, Brynn Hartman made headlines when she shot her husband, comedian Phil Hartman, and then took her own life. Brynn’s brother then sued Pfizer Pharmeceuticals, makers of antidepressant Zoloft®:, which Brynn was taking regularly at the time. The case alleged that the drug drove Hartman to insanity, which caused her to commit the murder/suicide. Like many other wrongful death cases, this one was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
When Ford Motor Company produced millions of Pinto automobiles that had a gas tank defect that resulted in an increased risk of an explosion, there were several wrongful death cases brought against them. The critical piece of evidence was a memo that implicated Ford executives for placing a $200,000 (USD) value on a human life. In the end, they were forced to pay millions of dollars in damages to the families of the deceased.