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Parents sue California correctional system for wrongful death

Death is almost always traumatic for surviving family members. The trauma and pain and suffering is compounded, however, when the death comes at the hands of another person or institution and should not have occurred in the first place. In some situations, institutional policies result in a wrongful death due to the excessive use of force or efforts to cover up a mistake. This is what recently occurred in California in an incident that has resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit.

A mentally ill inmate who was in a California prison serving a sentence for robbery is now dead after having been sprayed with pepper spray by correctional officers inside the prison. In addition to being mentally ill, the inmate used a tracheostomy tube in his throat to breathe. The tube allegedly resulted in magnifying the painful effects of the pepper spray, which ultimately caused his death. His parents recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state correctional system for compensation in an unspecified amount of damages. The lawsuit names the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as 13 other specific individuals, as defendants. The parents allege not only that the pepper spray wrongfully resulted in the death of their son, but also that the correctional officers took efforts to conceal the cause of death, even cremating their son's remains without their knowledge.

When a loved one dies unexpectedly, there are a range of reactions and consequences. First and foremost is often the emotional trauma and pain and suffering related to the loss, especially when the death should not have occurred. Next, however, are the financial consequences. Not only will loved ones be saddled with costs related to the death, such as funeral expenses, but they also will have to struggle with the loss of the deceased's income, in many cases.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is a way for family members to recover compensation for their losses, especially the financial ones. Perhaps more important, however, is the role that a wrongful death lawsuit can play in holding the responsible parties accountable for their action or inaction that wrongfully resulted in the death. In many cases, wrongful death lawsuits prompt investigations into product safety, changes in institutional policies or other remedial actions that are intended to prevent future deaths.

Source: The Virginia Gazette, "California sued over pepper-spray death of mentally ill prisoner," Dan Whitcomb, Sept. 4, 2014

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