On July 31, 2014, the father of 22-year old Forrest Carlton filed a wrongful death suit against the South Carolina group home where his son had been living, alleging negligence in security at the home allowed Forrest to slip off the premises. Forrest was allegedly struck and killed when Daniel Shirley, 19, failed to see him in the road and did not stop his car in time. Shirley then left the scene of the accident, for which he has been charged criminally.
Forrest was autistic, and had been living at a South Carolina MENTOR group home for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. According to the Post & Courier, he was prone to what behavioral experts call ‘wandering,’ though a better term might be ‘escaping.’ (Wandering tends to imply no destination, when very often, an autistic person has a destination in mind.) He had tried to leave the home’s premises at least four times during his stay there, and his father alleges that the home did nothing to improve its security after any of Forrest’s escapes, which allowed them to continue and ultimately played a part in his death.
It is also a reasonable assumption that the staff at the home might have been dismissive of the reasons behind Forrest’s wanderings, which would influence him to try again. Despite popular perceptions of autistic wandering as an impulsive action with no purpose, there are very often reasons why autistics try to escape a place. However, there is a long-standing trope that autistics who need significant support have no ability to communicate or no ability to cognitively reason. If an alleged autism expert is unaware of this fact, it may also be alleged negligence – a lack of understanding of one’s patient implies a dereliction of duty.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is when someone’s life is lost due to the recklessness or malice of another. The act that caused death does not have to be intentional; if it is a direct cause of the person’s death, then that actor may be held liable. Daniel Shirley likely had no intention whatsoever to hit anyone with his car, but Forrest Carlton died of injuries sustained in that collision. The MENTOR group home likely had no intention to allow Forrest to go walking around with no supervision, but because he was allowed to escape the home, he wound up in a situation where Daniel Shirley could hit him with his car.
One might wonder why Mr. Carlton did not name Shirley in the wrongful death suit. The likely answer, though no definitive reasoning is available in the media, is that Shirley is a teenager with very little money that could be taken in damages. Also, while Shirley’s actions were the actual cause of Forrest’s death, the MENTOR home’s alleged negligence was the proximate cause. Were it not for the home’s alleged negligence, Forrest would not have been out in that street in the first place.
There are two different actions that can be brought due to the death of a loved one. One is called a survival action, which is brought by the deceased’s personal representative for monies the deceased could have earned during their lifetime – for example, lost wages. The other is referred to as a wrongful death action, brought by the surviving family members of the deceased. In this case, there would likely be no lost wages or other money to be gained in a survival action – it is unknown whether or not Forrest ever held a job, but most residents of group homes do not. Mr. Carlton’s lawsuit is a wrongful death action, which seeks damages for lost companionship, pain and suffering and other damages directly stemming from Forrest’s death.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today
If you have lost someone in a wrongful manner, the experienced attorneys at Solomon Law Group can help. Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.