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Appeals Court Reinstates a Wrongful Death Suit


A New York Injury Lawyer reports that a state appeals court recently reinstated a woman’s lawsuit. The wrongful death suit was in connection to a man she had considered to be her husband for four years, but who was not divorced from his previous wife before their wedding day. The plaintiff was completely unaware of this when she began seeking for compensation for her husband’s injuries and death.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal ended up ruling that someone who “believed in good faith” that he or she was legally married is, indeed, entitled to marital rights – including filing a wrongful deathsuit. This ruling opposes more than 20 years of rulings in the cases of “putative spouses.”

A putative spouse is one who mistakenly believes he or she is married, explained a New York Injury Lawyer. California courts have recognized the rights of such spouses for more than a century. State legislation affirmed those same rights in 1969.

In 1988, however, a Los Angeles appellate decision instituted the requirement that those who claimed putative rights had to show that their belief was “objectively reasonable” and not simply sincere. This particular case in 1988 rejected a woman’s alimony claim based on marrying a man in a private religious ceremony that did not comply with state law. Her purported husband, at the time of the marriage, assured her that it was valid, but he changed his mind when he wanted to marry another woman two years later. The court, in this case, ruled that the woman’s belief was “unreasonable” and thus, she was not entitled to marital rights like alimony.

In the recent case in San Jose, the court ruled that the decision the court made in 1988 was a distortion of the law that was meant to protect those who were taken advantage of. The court sided with this ‘wife.’ Her ironworker husband died in a workplace accident. She believed she had been married to him for four years before his tragic death. She wasn’t aware that her groom was still married to a previous wife when they conducted their wedding ceremony. His divorce became final 3 months later. The defendant claimed she had never read the divorce papers closely and thus never knew about the overlapping date.

When she tried to sue a contractor for negligence that resulted in wrongful death, a judge dismissed the suit, saying she wasn’t married and should have been aware of it. According to a NYC Personal Injury Lawyer, the San Jose Appeals Court, however, unanimously ruled that she was, indeed, entitled to a trial. The presiding judge wrote that the law asks whether someone “honestly and genuinely (believes) that the marriage is valid” and not whether that belief is reasonable or not. And since she did honestly believe, she deserves the rights of a spouse.

The woman’s attorney called the ruling “good for the institution of marriage.”

Negligence that leads to death or serious injury causes tremendous grief. For families that need the financial help to deal with an untimely death or costly medical bills, the aid of a New York Injury Attorney is necessary and will help ensure that your case gets the fair treatment it deserves.

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