In a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. It asked whether the damages that could be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a decedent’s survivors were restricted by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a prior personal injury lawsuit settling all claims that could have been brought in the suit. If this question was answered in the affirmative, the lower court also asked what components or wrongful death damages would be barred in Georgia.
The case arose when a woman was involved in a car accident in 1992. She went into a coma due to a head injury from the accident. As her legal guardian, her husband sued the car manufacturer and another for the injuries. The plaintiff claimed that there was a defective seatbelt latch and door-locking mechanism and that these caused her injuries.
The jury tried the case, but before it came back with a verdict, the manufacturer and plaintiff entered into a high-low settlement agreement. This guaranteed that there would be a recovery for the plaintiff in case there was a verdict for the manufacturer but limited the manufacturer’s exposure in case the jury found for the plaintiff. The jury found for the plaintiff, awarding $30 million for pain and suffering, over $400,000 for medical expenses already incurred, and $6 million for future care and living expenses.