Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP
Treating California’s Injured With Dignity And Respect
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Wrongful Death Attorneys Will Seek Justice For You

The pain that a family endures following the sudden death of a loved one cannot be eased by wrongful death litigation. However, when a loved one dies in a tragic accident, you need answers, you need financial support, you need justice, and you need peace of mind. A successful wrongful death claim can provide these things to the surviving family members.

The San Francisco law firm of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP, is backed by more than 90 years of experience. Through our legal knowledge and compassion for our clients, we can help you and your family in this difficult time. Contact our California law firm to discuss a wrongful death lawsuit with a skilled attorney.

We handle wrongful death lawsuits arising from all types of fatal accidents in California, including:

You Have a Right To Compensation

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you have a right to seek full and fair compensation for all damages, including funeral expenses, loss of income to the family, loss of consortium (companionship), and other wrongful death damages.

In addition to these damages, a survival action may be brought regarding the personal injuries suffered by the victim prior to a wrongful death. For example, many injuries — such as a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, or a severe burn injury — may lead to the wrongful death of the accident victim.

A key case of ours involving wrongful death is Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. Superior Court, 56 Cal.App.3d 978 (1976). In Stencel, our office preserved the ability of the estate of a deceased pilot of a fighter jet to bring a survival action for product liability that included a request for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant and discourage its conduct. Learn more about our winning record in cases involving serious injury or accidental death.

The Right Lawyer Can Make A Difference In Wrongful Death Cases

If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident, it is important to carefully consider your decision when selecting an attorney. The attorneys of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP take particular pride in not only obtaining compensation for wrongful deaths but also changes to the law and improved safety and consumer protection standards.

Contact us for effective legal counsel in a wrongful death action.

At Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP, our wrongful death attorneys are skilled and experienced advocates for injured people and for the family of those who have lost a loved one. We have been fighting to achieve fair compensation for the surviving family members for more than 40 years. Our commitment to families bringing wrongful death cases has resulted in a track record of significant verdicts and settlements.

Wrongful Death Cases

Family v. City and County of San Francisco – $15,130,000

 Woman run over and killed by city park worker in park

$15,130,000 settlement for the family of a woman who was lying on a blanket with her 11-month-old daughter sitting between her feet at Holly Park when she was struck by a City and County of San Francisco truck. Thomas Burnoski, an employee of the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), drove a CCSF Recreation and Park Department pickup truck off a paved path in the park to take a shortcut to the street and ran over decedent’s head and upper torso, causing her death. Burnoski fled the scene while bystanders attempted to stop him before the police detained him. The GPS on the city truck showed that Burnoski had persistently driven off the path that day. A similar incident occurred in another San Francisco park years before when a Recreation and Park Department vehicle ran over another person, and the Department failed to clearly communicate a policy to its employees the importance of keeping park vehicles on paved paths, using spotters if it was necessary to leave the paths, and establishing a safe speed limit for city vehicles driving in parks. The City and County of San Francisco paid $15,130,000 to settle the case.

Passengers v. USA and Jeppsen and Co. – $11,600,000 verdict

DC-9 cargo jet crashed due to a defective aeronautical navigation chart used by the pilot.

Jury verdict in federal court for the crash of a DC-9 cargo jet and the death of its crew due to a defective aeronautical navigation chart used by the pilot resulted in a large jury verdict.

Pedestrian’s Son v. Hit & Run Driver – $5,000,000

Our client’s father suffered fatal injuries when a driver in Santa Rosa struck him, then fled the scene and hid for two days before turning himself in.

Our client’s father (age 65) was a pedestrian killed in a hit-and-run collision in Sonoma County. The decedent was walking alongside Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa en route to Spring Lake Park mid-day when defendant Steven Heath, a local realtor, struck the pedestrian with his Mercedes and caused fatal injuries.  Heath fled the scene, drove to his nearby home, parked his damaged car in the garage, and hid in his house for several days while a search ensued for the driver involved in the deadly hit-and-run. Mr. Heath eventually turned himself in to the police and pled no contest to felony hit and run, receiving a three-month jail sentence. Steven Heath paid $5,000,000 to settle the case.

Family v. Construction Company – $2,265,000

Caltrans construction inspection killed when run over by a reversing dump truck.

Our firm represented the surviving wife and adult son of a 56-year-old Caltrans construction inspector in a wrongful death case in Sonoma County who perished after a large dump truck at a highway construction project just outside Willits backed over him. The project did not have a spotter to assist the reversing truck driver.

Family v. Target Stores – $671,000 verdict

Defectively designed Target camping tent caused death of our client’s wife

$671,000 jury verdict in a wrongful death/products liability case against Target Corporation for the defective design of a camping tent.  Our client took his wife camping in Hope Valley near Kirkwood Ski Resort just south of Lake Tahoe to celebrate their 30-year anniversary.  He bought a Target Cabin Tent from Target Stores in Dublin, Alameda County.  The tent came with a dozen metal stakes about 6” in length to anchor it to the ground.  As he cooked breakfast, his wife remained inside the tent when a sudden, strong gust of wind arose, uprooting the tent with his wife inside and lifting it 50 feet into the air.  The tent floated for some distance before the wind stopped, causing the tent and its occupant to crash into the large rocks below.  Our client ran frantically to the tent and found his wife unconscious and bleeding from her ears. She died in his arms.  At trial in Alameda County Superior Court, our firm argued that the defective design of the exceptionally small tent stakes and the aerodynamic nature of the tent allowed foreseeable winds to lift the tent into the air.  Target sold replacement stakes for the tent that were considerably longer and much better designed to anchor the tent.  The trial judge commented to counsel that he had nose hairs longer than the stakes that came with the tent.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of our clients.

Family v. City and County of San Francisco – $15,000,000 verdict

 Tenants perished in fire in San Francisco Housing Authority public housing unit.

$15,000,000 jury verdict in San Francisco Superior Court against the City and County of San Francisco and a furniture manufacturer in a wrongful death case involving multiple deaths in a public housing unit due to a disabled smoke detector and very flammable furniture that contained polyurethane foam which gave off toxic cyanide, preventing the occupants to escape the burning apartment.

Family v. Driver – $1,500,000

Motorcyclist suffered fatal injuries when a driver pulled out from a driveway directly in front of him.

Our firm represented a mother who lost her 28-year-old son in a motorcycle collision on Woodside Road in San Mateo County.  Our client’s son was traveling westbound towards I-280 just past Woodside High School when a Lexus driven by Charles Lynch exited the Menlo Country Club driveway and entered Woodside Road directly in front of the motorcyclist, who crashed into the side of the Lexus and died at the scene due to his injuries.  The case settled for $1,500,000.

Family v. City of Oakland – $1,500,000

 $1.5 million settlement against the City of Oakland for the wrongful death of a mother and daughter in a home invasion robbery

Our firm represented the surviving family members in a wrongful death case after a mother and her 18-year-old daughter were killed during a home invasion robbery. Intruders tied up the mother but did not realize that the daughter had locked her bedroom door, hid in her closet, and called 9-1-1. Oakland Police Officers quietly surrounded the home. Without knowing whether or not the intruders were still inside the home, one responding officer communicated instructions to the 9-1-1 operator to have the girl to come out of her locked bedroom and ensured that it was safe to do so.  When the girl opened her bedroom door, she startled the intruders, who began to chase her through the house.  As the girl approached the backdoor, one of the intruders shot and killed her, then killed her mother.  The intruders surrendered to the police that had surrounded the home.  Six years after the incident, the Alameda County District Attorney office handed the surviving family members a transcript of the 9-1-1 call at the start of the long-delayed penalty phase trial.  Until that time, the surviving family did not know that the actions of the Oakland Police led to the two deaths.  The San Francisco Chronicle described the settlement as the City of Oakland’s largest payout for a police negligence case. Click here to read more about the case on the Oakland City Attorney’s website.

1.5 million settlement

January 16, 2001
XXXXXX vs. City of Oakland, et al.
Oakland, CA—On January 16, 2001 in closed session, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved settlement of the above-entitled action for the sum of One Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($1.5 million), payable to XXXX and their attorneys of record, Robert Waldsmith and William Smith.

This lawsuit arises from a September 10, 1991 home invasion robbery that resulted in the deaths of XXXX and her daughter XXXX. Oakland police officers responded to a 911 telephone call from XXXX in which she reported that several intruders had entered her home. After taking up positions outside the home, the officers concluded that the intruders had left and directed XXXX to leave the bedroom where she had been hiding. Complying with the instructions of the police, Ms. XXXX left her bedroom and was chased and shot by one of the robbers. Apparently unaware that the house was surrounded by police, the intruders then killed XXXX’s mother, XXXX, in order to avoid having a witness to the first murder.

This settlement is a risk management decision by the City Council. The City does not admit liability and the settlement is a compromise of the City’s and the plaintiffs’ interests in this matter to avoid the costs of litigation and the risk of possible adverse judgment.

Family v. Auto Manufacturer – $5,150,000

 Death in vehicular fire from a defectively designed gas tank

$5,150,000 for our client in a wrongful death/products liability case after husband lost control of his 1996 Ferrari F355 GTS on State Route 1 in Sonoma County and struck a tree.  The impact caused the fuel sender device mounted on the bottom of the fuel tank to detach, leaving a gaping opening in the bottom of the tank.  Fuel poured from the tank, ignited, and almost instantaneously entered the passenger compartment, incinerating the driver and his passenger.

Family v. Nail Gun Manufacturer

Construction worker died when nail from nail gun lodged in his skull

Our firm represented the surviving family in a wrongful death/products liability case involving a construction worker who suffered fatal injuries while using an Omark, Model 330G nail or stud gun, also known as a powder actuated tool, to nail something to the ceiling.  As he stood on a scaffold to gain access to the ceiling and had the guard of the stud gun in the full offset position, he pulled the trigger and a nail penetrated the cement ceiling, “fishhooked” out beyond the coverage of the offset guard and lodged in his skull.  He then lost his balance and fell about 20 feet to the cement floor below resulting in his immediate death.

 Family v. Trucking Company – $1,050,000

 Large truck made wide turn into opposing traffic and drove up and onto car, crushing driver

Our firm represented the family of a 77-year-old man who perished in a head-on collision on a San Francisco street when the large semi-truck made a wide turn and drove up the hood of the car, over the windshield and onto the roof, crushing the decedent.

Family v. Limo Company – $2,681,260

Surviving family members of a woman who perished in limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge brought case against limo owner, limo converting company and limo service company

Our clients were the heirs of a woman who was a passenger in a Ford limousine that caught fire while crossing the San Mateo Bridge.  She was unable to get out of the limo in time to save her life and she died due to smoke inhalation and heat.  We sued the owner of the limo.

Family of Runner v. Event Organizer

Our firm represented the family of a participant in a sporting activity who signed a release to participate then suffered a cardiac arrest while participating.  The event organizers and medical team failed provide any assistance to the decedent.

Our clients’ decedent ran in the San Francisco Half Marathon and suffered a cardiac arrest at the finish line in Golden Gate Park. Participants finishing the race administered CPR for 20 minutes before any race personnel arrived at the scene to provide assistance to the fallen runner. Once the race AED arrived, it was too late to resuscitate him.

To obtain a permit to run a large race for profit on public streets, the race organizers, RhodyCo Productions, were required to have an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) plan that outlined a medical team to include a medical doctor, an ambulance, and an AED at the finish line of the race.  RhodyCo did not comply with the EMS plan.  It hired a chiropractic school to provide the medical team for the race and failed to provide any medical services at the finish line.

Our firm filed suit against RhodyCo on behalf of decedent’s heirs.  RhodyCo attempted to have our case dismissed, claiming that a pre-race waiver/release form signed by decedent prevented the wrongful death claim.  RhodyCo also claimed that the decedent assumed the risk of harm by participating in the running race, also preventing the claim.  After considerable discovery, numerous depositions, detailed motions and briefs, and extensive appellate work, the California Court of Appeal disagreed with RhodyCo and found in favor of our clients.

Although an express waiver or a release that assumes all risks inherent in participating in an event is signed by a participant usually provides a complete defense to a claim of negligence, the Court of Appeal held that we were able to demonstrate sufficient facts to support a claim of gross negligence against RhodyCo for its failure to implement the promised EMS plan.  Gross negligence, which falls outside the permitted scope of a waiver or release, need not be specifically pleaded in the complaint because it is not a separate claim from ordinary negligence, just a heightened negligence standard.

The Court of Appeal also held that although cardiac arrest is an inherent risk in long distance running races and nothing suggested that RhodyCo increased this risk, RhodyCo still had the duty to minimize extrinsic risks of running, such as the provision of emergency medical care for runners who suffered cardiac arrests.  As the race organizer, RhodyCo could have provided adequate emergency medical care without altering the fundamental nature of a running race.  Thus, the primary assumption of risk doctrine did not bar plaintiffs’ suit.  (See Hass v. RhodyCo Productions (2018) 26 Cal. App. 5th 11; https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1900017.html)

Family v. Rheumatologist – $239,000 verdict

 Patient with compromised kidney died after prescribed with contraindicated medication

 $239,000 jury verdict in San Francisco Superior Court against Nancy Carteron, M.D. in favor of the surviving family of a man in a medical malpractice case involving the negligent prescription of the drug Methotrexate to a patient with compromised kidneys, which was contraindicated in the medication’s warnings.

Family v. Southwest Forest Industries – $1,000,000 after jury verdict

 Logger suffered fatal head injuries when a logging cable snapped and violently rocked his cable yarder, throwing him inside the cab where he struck his head 

$1,000,000 following a jury verdict in Siskiyou County in a wrongful case involving a logger who was operating a large cable yarder to harvest cut logs from down a steep hill with a strong metal cable when he suffered fatal injuries from striking his head against a sharp object in the interior of the cab after the cable snapped causing the yarder to violently rock back and forth.

Passengers v. Aviation Parts Manufacturer – $12,500,000

Jury verdict for the wrongful death and personal injuries of passengers in a crash of a small airplane due to a defectively manufactured magneto on one engine of a twin-engine aircraft. The failure occurred on take-off, resulting in the loss of ignition and engine stoppage.

Family v. Building Owner and Security Company

Man with cardiac arrest in lobby of building died after receiving no aid from building’s security guard

Our firm represented the surviving family of a man who attended a professional meeting at the high-rise building in Sacramento.  Immediately upon arrival at the building, he exhibited obvious signs of being ill and laid down on the floor near the restroom in the lobby of the building, sprawled out with outstretched arms, as captured on the building’s video surveillance cameras.  Nearby, the building security guard was at his post at the lobby security console that contained video monitors showing clear images of the man on the lobby floor struggling for his life for five minutes.  Then, the security guard left his post at the security console to walk to the adjacent parking garage and walked past the man lying on the floor in the public lobby area.  The surveillance video footage showed the security guard look at the man lying on the floor and do a double-take due to the extremely uncommon nature of seeing a well-dressed man lying on the lobby floor before simply walking on by and leaving the man to continue to fight for his life without any assistance.  The express duties of the security guard included recognizing and immediately reporting any medical emergencies to 9-1-1, but he failed to do either.  Eventually, a bystander found the man and called 9-1-1.  Other bystanders began to assist with CPR and, recognizing the obvious signs of a cardiac arrest, searched for an AED (automated external defibrillator).  After some time, they finally found one, but it failed to work due to having expired electrode pads.  By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, the man could not be resuscitated.  As a result of the delay in calling 9-1-1, the inability to promptly locate the AED, and the failure to properly maintain the AED, he died at age 61.  Our firm brought a wrongful death case in Sacrament County Superior Court against the security company for negligence and the owner/property manager of the building for premises liability.

Family v. Driver – $1,250,000

Pedestrian suffered fatal injuries when struck by a negligent driver in San Rafael.

$1,250,000 for the surviving family members of a man who sustained fatal injuries as a pedestrian in San Rafael in Marin County when defendant Zunqing struck him with a car.

Family v. Driver

Motorcyclist died when car changes lane, knocking him into traffic light pole

Our firm represented the surviving parents of a motorcyclist on a Yamaha motorcycle traveling in the right lane on Los Feliz Boulevard at Edgemont Street in Los Angeles when a car in the left lane made a quick lane change and struck the motorcycle, causing decedent to collide with a pole for a traffic light and suffer fatal injuries.

Family v. Cathedral Hill Hotel – $2,400,000

A Christmas tree started a blaze in the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, causing the death of a hairdresser

A blaze ignited in the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco releasing toxic chemicals, including cyanide, from polyurethane foam in cushioned meeting chairs, furnishings, wall coatings, and carpeting.  The toxic chemicals essentially disabled decedent, a hairdresser, from escaping before he was killed by the fire.  This case settled for $2,400,000.

Elderly Scooter Rider v. Truck – $1,800,000

A 95-year-old man on a mobility scooter suffered fatal injuries when struck by a garbage truck.

Our firm represented the surviving family members of a 95-year-old man in a wrongful death and survival action after he was struck by a garbage truck while operating a mobility scooter in the street near his home.  The garbage truck driver initially saw the elderly man on the scooter in the street behind the stopped subject garbage truck, but lost sight of him and reversed the truck directly into the man.

Family v. Timber Company – $900,000

Driver crushed under large log stacker that backed over his vehicle

$900,000 settlement to the family of a 56-year-old man who was crushed in his car on his way to work by a LeTourneau, a 90,000-lb. four wheeled log stacker, in a Humboldt County timber mill. The settlement was reached, despite the fact that all of the official investigative reports blamed the decedent for the incident and placed no blame at all on the operator of the log stacker.

Family v. Caltrans – $2,000,000

Driver crashed due to flood on freeway and perished when another car lost control in flood and struck him after Caltrans failed to clean drains

 Our firm represented the family of a 19-year-old whose car became disabled due to flooding on I-880 in Oakland that created an extremely large, 2-foot-deep puddle due to clogged drains.  When he got out of his car to check on the damage to his car, another vehicle that lost control in the same flooding, struck the young man and caused his death.  Caltrans knew that flooding at this location occurred every time it rained and identified it as a “hot spot” for flooding but failed to keep the drains in this location clear and free of debris.  CHP reported the flooding but the Caltrans dispatcher left her post for an hour to got to McDonalds.

Family of Cyclist v. Town of Truckee

Bicyclist crashed and died after losing control of his bike at the bottom of a long downhill when he rode through a sinkhole that should have been repaired by the Town of Truckee

Our firm represented the surviving wife of a 57-year-old bicyclist who hit a large sinkhole in a bike lane at the bottom of a long downhill from Donner Summit on Old Donner Pass Road, a popular bike route in Truckee, causing him to lose control, fall hard onto the roadway, and suffer a fatal head injury despite wearing a helmet.  Due to its location and the lighting, the sinkhole was nearly impossible to see in advance.  The Town of Truckee had painted the fog line striping through the depression in the pavement prior to the incident and should have discovered and remedied the dangerous condition caused by rodents that had built a nest below the pavement.

Family of Relator v. Property Owner

Realtor died due to a fall down stairs that failed due to dry rot

Our firm represented the surviving husband of a realtor who died after hitting her head in a fall down an interior wooden staircase leading to the basement of the premises in San Francisco during an open house.  One of the stairs failed due to extensive dry rot covered up by painting over the area.

Cochran v. Herzog Engraving Co. (1984) 155 Cal.App.3d 405

Appealed to preserve the rights of the heirs of a worker following her death in a fire caused by the storage of magnesium.