Georgia’s Supreme Court recently issued a decision deciding whether a wrongful death suit can be limited by a previous personal injury claim for the same accident. The plaintiff, through her husband, filed a personal injury suit against Toyota after a car accident left her in a coma. The coma was permanent and the plaintiff was totally and permanently disabled.
The case was tried before a jury, but before the jury rendered a decision, Toyota and the plaintiff entered into a “high-low” agreement. The agreement guaranteed the plaintiff a certain sum if the jury found in Toyota’s favor, and limited Toyota’s exposure if the jury found in the plaintiff’s favor. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, and Toyota paid the sum it was required to under the settlement agreement.
The husband signed a written release on his wife’s behalf. It released Toyota from liability for all claims and damages arising from the accident, but expressly excluded “any claim for [the plaintiff’s] wrongful death, inasmuch as [she] has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].”
More than 20 years later, the plaintiff died, and her husband and children filed a wrongful death claim against Toyota. Toyota argued that the wrongful death claim was limited by the plaintiff’s previous settlement agreement, because allowing it would allow the plaintiff to recover twice for the same injury.
The court decided that the wrongful death suit was limited by the personal injury settlement—but that the suit was not barred completely. The court held that damages that were recovered or could have been recovered in a personal injury claim cannot later be recovered in a wrongful death claim for the same accident. It explained that in many personal injury cases the plaintiffs are still able to work and enjoy life despite the injury, and plaintiffs can recover substantial additional damages in a subsequent wrongful death claim. Even in this case, where the accident resulted in the woman being in a permanent coma before her death, there was still value to her life while she was in a coma, and thus her family could still recover additional damages for her death, as well as any burial expenses.
Wrongful Death Suits in Georgia
Under Georgia law, a wrongful death claim can be filed by a surviving spouse or child against a party responsible for the decedent’s death. The purpose of the law is to allow the family members of the deceased to recover for their injuries, particularly when the deceased was unable to pursue a personal injury claim due to their own death. However, as the court explained in this case, even where a plaintiff is able to recover in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff’s qualifying family members are still able to recover for the additional damages resulting from the wrongful death of their loved one.
Contact a Georgia Wrongful Death Attorney
There are few things more difficult than losing a loved one, especially when you know that the loss of life could have been prevented but for someone else’s reckless or wrongful actions. The Georgia wrongful death attorneys at Christopher Simon, Attorney at Law will provide you with the legal support you need to build your case. Our Georgia wrongful death attorneys have successfully handled a multitude of cases involving vehicle wrecks, apartment pool drownings, shootings and hospital complications. Contact us today at 404-259-7635 to schedule your initial case review and ask our lawyers any questions you may have.
Uninsured Motorist Insurance Notice Denial Can Be Beaten With Some Arguments, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published June 20, 2018
Georgia Court Discusses “Equal Knowledge” in Recent Sip-and-Fall Case, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published July 16, 2018