Peter W. Summerill

Utah Trial Attorney

Hard Cases

When Children Die

I once asked a pathologist (you know, the doc who performs autopsies) what were some of the more difficult cases she had worked on. I intended 'difficult' in the sense of figuring out what happened to the victim. She replied "The hardest cases involve children." As an attorney, I should really know how to ask better questions. But, the answer didn't surprise me. Having worked on many (some high profile) cases involving the death of young children over the years it is true: the hardest wrongful death cases involve children. Regardless of whether you are a parent, hearing about the loss of a young life under any circumstance is a gut punch, can't catch your breath thing. When children die because somebody was being careless, it gets that much harder to grasp. We take particular care to protect children, flagging our school crossings and slowing speed limits during school, putting "Baby on Board" in our car windows, making sure the kid has his helmet on before he goes biking. So, when someone carelessly, negligently, takes the life of a child it's all that much more offensive. The hardest cases involve the loss of a life taken far too soon, before the first school girl/boy crush, before the first kiss, before high school graduation, before they get to chase a dream. On my first child death case, I tried to be clinical, objective, and just-the-facts ma'am in my lawyering. It failed about half way into the case. Even while focusing on the law and theory that would provide justice to the parents, the hard case leaks through and cannot be ignored. So, yes, the lawyering part matters. But equally or perhaps more important was the time spent learning the story of a young life gone and the horrendous toll it took on the family. And, yes, that meant I was often very sad. Years later, when the unexpected answer came from the pathologist, I asked the follow-up question "How do you handle the hardest case, how do you deal with that emotion?" "I take solace in my work of trying to tell the story of why." She, like me, had come to the same conclusion. Her job was to be clinical, apply medicine, do the forensic work, but, also, learn and tell the story of the child in the hope that we could learn and perhaps avoid future mistakes.

Just A Pup

Excited to announce the newest member of my staff! This guy brings a wealth of adorability, laughs and a keen sense of justice (aka "You have treat for me?").4FAFF7AE-3642-4696-A7C8-FD332F8070EB_1_105_c
Sometimes you just need a break :)

Wrongful Death Claims in Utah

Utah Wrongful Death Law - What Kind of Claims are there for Wrongful Death?

Often, heirs and loved ones left behind following a death may not even be aware of the possibility that a claim for the death exists. General negligence, defective products, big rig trucking crashes, medical malpractice or work place accidents can potentially result in a wrongful death case. In Utah, there may be not just one, but two causes of action or lawsuits that can be asserted. First, there may be a claim for the estate of the individual who died and, second, there may be a claim for the individual heirs.

Claims of the Estate

The estate can bring a claim for pain, suffering and economic losses due to the death of the individual. These types of claim include damages for an individual who generally does not pass away immediately but rather suffers for some length of time before dying. One example would be a missed diagnosis of cancer which causes the victim to endure more invasive medical treatments and additional pain and suffering while there are attempts made to save their life. However, pain and suffering damages could also be claimed in cases of, for example, drowning, where the victim suffers pain and fear prior to death. Damages such as these would be included in claims that are held by the decedent's estate and would be pursued by a personal representative.

Claims of the Heirs

Each heir has their own separate claim due to the wrongful death of a loved one. Heirs in Utah include children, spouses and parents. The damages for wrongful death heirs include the loss of love, society, companionship and counsel. These claims are held individually by each heir. But, because there can only be a single cause of action for wrongful death, all heirs are joined under a single lawsuit.

As always, if you or someone you know has a potential wrongful death case, try to talk with an attorney as soon as possible. It is essential that an attorney be consulted to avoid loss of evidence, running of statute of limitations, and to preserve the claim of the heirs and the estate in wrongful death cases since Utah, like many other states, has unique requirements that must be followed in order to preserve the claim.

Top 100 High Stakes Litigator

Peter Summerill added as America's Top 100 High Stakes Litigators 2020.

Inversion Table Danger Alert

Inversion Tables Pose Significant Risk of Death and Paralysis

Sold as therapeutic devices, inversion tables present significant and serious risks of death or permanent paralysis. These machines often bring little in the way of documented relief and, unfortunately, can abruptly and without warning fail while the user is inverted. The sudden drop from an upside down position is the perfect position to cause spinal cord injury resulting in permanent paralysis including both quadriplegia and paraplegia. These same mechanisms of injury can also lead to death. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has multiple reports of failures on inversion tables, many involving a product defect in the ankle locking mechanism. While inverted, the mechanism can release suddenly, and the user suffers a catastrophic and life altering injury. Peter Summerill has worked on inversion table cases. Any claimed benefit or promise of relief simply is not worth the risk associated with using inversion tables.

The risk of the injury, including the extent of that injury, when one of these inversion tables fails, greatly exceeds any of the claimed (and often unproven) health benefits.

The inversion tables are sold both online and through retail sporting goods and other retail outlets such as Costco. "Any user who suffers injury due to a sudden release should certainly seek a lawyer qualified to handle product liability cases involving catastrophic injury."