Phelps v. Hebert: Wrongful Death Actions and the Duty of Care

Our South Carolina attorneys who handle wrongful death lawsuits understand that there may be other parties responsible for a tragic loss of life than just the party who personally performed the negligent act or omission.

quad-1109243-m.jpgPhelps v. Herbert is a wrongful death case filed under a theory of negligence that was argued before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In Phelps, at a family’s high school graduation party, a friend of the graduate showed up with a case of beer as a graduation gift. Later that evening, the friend went home to get his new All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and returned to the party. A friend asked for a ride on the ATV. The driver offered her a helmet to wear, but she declined. He drove down the road and then returned to the house.

A while after the first ride, another friend asked for a ride on the back of the ATV. She was also offered a helmet to wear during the ride, but she declined. She was asked to put down her beverage and cigarette before getting on the ATV. Once she was on the ATV, they went for a ride. The ATV rolled and the riders where thrown. According to court records, the driver fled the scene on foot, leaving the ATV and his severely injured passenger on the side of the road. The passenger died of complications of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after nine days of hospitalization.

The question before the appellate court was whether the homeowners owed a duty of care to the victim of this tragic accident. You may be asking why we’re discussing the homeowners rather than the ATV driver. This is a common situation faced by many personal injury attorneys. The individual who personally engaged in the negligent conduct may not have the necessary funds to compensate the injured party for the loss suffered. However, there may be another person or company also responsible for the injury that does have sufficient funds or insurance to compensate the injured party.

For example, if a delivery truck driver hits a pedestrian, there may be a lot of damage and hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in long-term medical bills related to treatment of injuries. It is likely that the truck driver does not have the money to pay for these damages. In this situation, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers will likely also attempt to recover from the driver’s employer or their insurance company.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been active in lobbying for social host liability laws in South Carolina and throughout the nation.

In Phelps, it is likely that a recent high school graduate did not have any money to pay for the pain and suffering associated with the wrongful death claim, and so the homeowners would be brought into the suit, along with their homeowner’s insurance policy.
Ultimately in Phelps, the court ruled that the there was no duty of care owned by the homeowners under the facts of this particular case.

Contact the Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Phelps v. Hebert, June 27, 2014, Supreme Court of Rhode Island

More Blog Entries:

Fast-Food Restaurant Fight Results in Premises Liability Lawsuit, May 8, 2014, North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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