Rice v. Corasanti – Pre-Death Suffering a Factor in Wrongful Death Claim

When a loved one is killed as a result of someone else’s negligence or criminal act, a civil wrongful death case can focus at least partially on whether or how much decedent suffered prior to death.
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This is often an especially painful and difficult element to address because no one wants to think about those last moments in which someone for whom they cared experienced deep distress, severe pain or great fear. Still, it may be necessary to address because courts allow for greater compensation when a person was aware and suffered greatly before death, as opposed to if the person died suddenly or had no awareness.

This has become an issue in a recent hit-and-run DUI wrongful death case in New York, where the family of an 18-year-old pizzeria worker is suing a doctor alleged to be responsible for her death. In Rice v Corasanti, the question of the victim’s pre-death pain and suffering has become central, and, unfortunately, hinges on a witness who has been inconsistent with her testimony.

According to court records and news reports, the young woman was riding her longboard home after a work shift one night in July 2011 when she was struck by the doctor, driving his BMW.

Authorities alleged the doctor was drunk, texting and speeding more than 20 mph over the speed limit. However, he was only convicted for misdemeanor drunk driving in criminal court. It is undisputed, however, that he did not stop at the scene after impact. The physician would later testify he did not realize he’d hit anything or anyone until after he returned home and saw blood on his vehicle.

The woman he struck reportedly slammed onto the hood of the vehicle before being thrown some 150 feet onto a nearby lawn. It was there a passerby discovered her. The woman was in bad shape: Both leg bones broken. One of her legs had an open gash in it. Several of her ribs were broken, and she suffered a lacerated cerebellum and neck injuries.

The woman who found her would later testify the girl’s face was “full of fear” and shock. She also said she detected a pulse, and she held the girl’s hand and comforted her while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The girl was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

However, immediately after the incident, the passerby told police she had not seen any signs of life in the girl when she found her. She would address the conflicting accounts at trial by saying she was deeply distressed herself.

Defense lawyers have presented a report from the medical examiner’s office, indicating the victim most likely died instantly. Her family alleges the girl endured excruciating pain in the moments before her death, and that the doctor should be required to pay for the this suffering.

Our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers know that in such cases, lay witness testimony may be required. In other situations, input may be needed from an expert witness. Accurately discerning the right approach could be critical to your case.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Rice v Corasanti, Nov. 21, 2014, New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Fourth Department
More Blog Entries:
MADD: Alabama Gets Five Stars for Drunk Driving Prevention, Feb. 4, 2015, Montgomery Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog