Wrongful Informing Next of Kin?
Every attorney, if not most people know what a wrongful death case is, but a wrongful non-death case? Or better phrased, wrongful informing Next of Kin. This case arises from a single vehicle accident in which one of the five passengers unfortunately died. DPS mistakenly informed the wrong family that their daughter had died in the accident, when as inferred she did not. The DPS officers did not just randomly choose the family, officers found found a purse near the deceased passenger. In the purse was the driver’s license for April Guerra. April shared similar physical attributes to the deceased passenger. Due to the severity of the injuries the passengers received, DPS officers could not positively identify the individuals at the scene.
Based on statements from the charge nurse and by process of elimination the officers believed the deceased individual to be April Guerra. DPS officers then took Mrs. Guerra’s family into the hospital conference room where they informed them that their family member had passed. They also informed the family to contact the Medical Examiner’s office to positively identify the body. The Medical Examiner advised the family that it could not release the body until it could match dental records. The medical examiner determined that the dental records did not match. Ultimately the family was able to determine that their family member was currently in the hospital and that DPS has notified the wrong family.
The Guerra family sued the State alleging claims of negligence, negligent training, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The State filed a motion for summary judgment on all counts. The Guerra’s filed a cross-motion arguing that the State assumed a duty of reasonable care when its officers undertook the Next of Kin notification.
The Appellate Court agreed with Guerra, holding that State assumed a duty of reasonable care when officers delivered the Next of Kin notification to the Guerra family. The Court then remanded the case to the Superior Court regarding the negligence cause of action.