In a recent, much publicized trial in Feb 2016, Mario Muzzo pleaded guilty to multiple impaired driving charges, including four counts of impaired driving causing death. The charges were in connection with a tragic car accident caused by Muzzo in September 2015, which resulted in the death of a 65 year old grandfather and three children aged nine, five and two. Two grandmothers were also injured in the crash when the van in which the family of six were driving was struck by Muzzo’s jeep.
Many Canadians were shocked and saddened by this recent accident which deprived a young couple of all three of their children as well as a father. For most of us, the loss of a young child or close family member in a traumatic event such as was suffered by the Neville-Lake family is unfathomable. The ‘guilty’ finding in court allows the family to finally speak openly on the accident as having been caused by a ‘drunk driver’, but sentencing is yet to be decided later this month.
Unfortunately, numerous Ontario families have been devastated in recent years by tragic accidents caused by drunk or reckless drivers that resulted in serious injury or death.
In the fall of 2015, Andrea Christidis, an 18 year old Western student originally from Toronto, was struck by a vehicle and fatally injured while she was walking on the sidewalk near the University. The 24 year old man driving the car that hit Ms. Christidis faces charges of impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death.
In November 2015 at the conclusion of a lengthy trial, Dr. Christy Natsis, a Pembroke dentist was sentenced five years in prison following her conviction for impaired and dangerous driving causing death. In March 2011, Ms. Natsis’ SUV struck Bryan Casey’s truck head-on on Highway 17 near Arnprior, resulting in fatal injuries to the 50 year old father of three young children.
The Casey family has launched a civil lawsuit against Ms. Natsis, seeking $500,000 in wrongful death damages. The civil lawsuit examination for discovery of the defendant can conclude now that the criminal trial and sentencing are resolved for this case. Damages are being sought for loss of future income, loss of guidance, care and companionship for the widow and her three children, as well as punitive damages. Damages for loss of guidance, care and companionship are sought for the victim’s father, sister and brother. The courts will also be asked to rule on possible additional damages above the half million.
Wrongful Death Claim
Certainly no amount of money can compensate a family for the loss of a loved one, nor can anyone place a monetary value on the worth of a life. Nevertheless, the only remedy that is available in civil lawsuits to surviving family members is a wrongful death award. Wrongful death is the term given to cases where someone died as a result of another person’s negligent action, such as reckless driving, medical malpractice or an unsafe premises.
Under Section 5 of the Family Law Act in Ontario, family members are entitled to sue a negligent party for damages from a wrongful death based on the amount to which the deceased person would have been entitled if they survived. The following family members may seek wrongful death damages:
- parents (mother and father)
- siblings (sister and brother)
A wrongful death claim does not award damages for pain, suffering and grief. Truly, these losses cannot be quantified and would generally be astronomical from the perspective of a surviving spouse, parent or child. Also, punitive damages to punish the ‘at fault’ party who caused the wrongful death are rarely awarded because Ontario law considers punishment to be the function of our criminal law system. However, family members may seek damages for the financial losses they incurred as a result of the death, as well as for the loss of care, companionship and guidance.
The types of damages to which a surviving family member may be entitled include:
- Actual expenditures for funeral expenses
- Reasonable travel expenses to visit a person while they received treatment before their death
- Compensation to a dependant for the loss of income
- An award for loss of child care and household services throughout the marriage
- Compensation for the loss of companionship
- Compensation to dependants for a loss of guidance
The largest wrongful death settlements are awarded to a spouse when a family provider is killed in an accident, to compensate dependants for the loss of income that results from the loss of a working parent. Surviving spouses who have lost a husband or wife who was contributing to the family income are generally entitled to 60 to 70 per cent of the income the deceased spouse would have earned annually until their retirement. Dependent children are entitled to a lesser amount.
In Ontario, the maximum in wrongful death damages awarded for the loss of a child was $125,000, awarded in 2010. Prior to 2010, the award to parents for the loss of a young child was commonly between $25,000 to $40,000, which critics perceive as an inadequate and meagre amount and accordingly, an offence to justice.
The following cases are some of the wrongful death awards for loss of guidance, care and companionship decided in Ontario courts.
- In 2001, To v. Toronto Board of Education, a father was awarded $100,000 for the loss of a child that resulted from an accident on school gym equipment. The younger sister of the deceased was awarded $25,000.
- In 2010, the Ontario Court of Appeal awarded Debbie Fiddler $125,000 in damages for the loss of her daughter, overturning a previous jury decision to award Ms. Fiddler $200,000 in damages. In this trial, the court recommended that future trials instruct the jury on the upper amount to be awarded for loss of guidance, care and companionship.
- In 2012, a husband, Bradley Vokes, and his two children, five and three years old, were awarded $90,000, $117,000 and $135,000 respectively for the loss of care, guidance and companionship of a wife and mother. Michele Vokes was nine months pregnant when she was killed in a car accident caused by a man who was driving without a licence and speeding. To-date, this $135,000 sum is the largest single amount awarded for the loss of care, guidance and companionship.
- In a 2015 action, MacDonald v. Duncan, two adult sisters were each awarded $35,000 in damages for loss of guidance, care and companionship, after their sister was killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver. Even though the adult sisters lived in a different province than the accident victim, the sisters had a very close relationship and therefore, the judge concluded that there would be a very real loss deserving of the sum that was awarded.
When a loved one is killed in an accident resulting from a negligent act, the surviving family members are typically in shock and often take a long time to come to terms with their loss. In the aftermath of a serious accident that results in wrongful death, there may also be a criminal trial to resolve liability and determine punishment and sentencing, although not every wrongful death results in criminal charges against the ‘at fault’ person.
Undeniably, a wrongful death claim is a complicated and difficult process for all the family members involved. The legal staff at Kotak Law are here to help you through this stressful time. We can provide expert advice on your legal rights and options, assist with insurance claims applications, and well represent you in a wrongful death suit. There are timelines for filing a wrongful death claim; thus, it is imperative that you do not delay in seeking legal counsel. Call us today to find out how we can make this process easier for you.