The Johnson & Bell trial team of Edward W. Hearn, Catherine Breitweiser-Hurst and Gregory D. Conforti successfully resolved a wrongful death trucking case where plaintiff asked the jury at closing for $12 million in damages. Johnson & Bell’s trucking client already had admitted liability for the accident and was defending this case solely on the issue of non-economic damages. After closing arguments and before the jury returned a verdict, plaintiff asked for $5 million and our client agreed to settle the case.
In this Wrongful Death Act case, a lawsuit was filed against Johnson & Bell’s client in state court by the widow on behalf of the estate of decedent. Initially, the widow and the decedent’s adult children sought to recover for the death of the involved driver. Defense successfully removed the case to federal court though plaintiff attempted to fight removal by adding a non-diverse defendant to the suit. Ultimately, the non-diverse defendant was dismissed and the case remained in federal court. Defense obtained summary judgment on all claims for recovery by the adult children of decedent as we successfully established they were not dependent next of kin as contemplated under the Wrongful Death Act and were not entitled to recover.
Johnson & Bell’s client ultimately admitted liability for the accident and moved forward with defending the case solely on the issue of non-economic damages -- loss of love, affection, companionship, and other factors. Prior to trial, plaintiff would not consider a settlement of less than $7 million and was willing to try the case.
At trial, plaintiff asked the jury to award $12 million in damages. Plaintiff presented a compelling case at trial, including testimony by the widow and the decedent’s children about the decedent’s qualities and character. There was testimony from family and friends about the decedent regularly giving back to the community including helping strangers on the road and helping the homeless during the holidays each year.
Through cross-examination, defense established that the widow already had received a substantial amount of money and, all things considered, was doing well with her friends and family nearby.
During closing arguments, plaintiff again asked the jury to award $12 million in non-economic damages, arguing the trucking company needed to make up for plaintiff’s losses and accept responsibility for the damage caused --ignoring the fact that the trucking company had accepted responsibility by admitting fault. Plaintiff provided no basis for the specific $12 million demand as all of plaintiff’s damages were emotionally based.
During defense’s closing, we raised concerns about plaintiff’s damages demand and we proposed a formula based on evidence admitted during the trial that the jury could use when deciding damages. The proposed formula would substantially reduce plaintiff’s damages demand by more than $10 million.
After closing arguments and before the jury returned a verdict, plaintiff asked for $5 million and Johnson & Bell’s client agreed to settle the case. Importantly, in the state this case was tried, there is no cap for damages under the Wrongful Death Act when the decedent leaves behind a spouse. As such, the jury had the ability to award plaintiff substantially more than the $12 million demanded.