As a trial attorney handling catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases in Atlanta, I continue to see how jurors are able to separate the wheat from the chaff and do substantial justice in serious cases. Frivolous and trivial cases, by contrast, don’t carry much weight with jurors.
This week in the State Court of Fulton County, a jury returned a wrongful death verdict against a drunk driver who killed a young mother, in the amount of $5,830,000 ($5,115,000 for the value of life and $715,000 for her suffering before death).
Since the nineteenth century, under Georgia law the measure of damages for wrongful death has been the full value of the life of the deceased. This is consistent with our prevailing respect for the sanctity of human life.
The economic component of the value of the life includes a projection of lifetime income and benefits, with no deduction for living expenses or income taxes, value of services, etc.). This figure is be reduced to present value under Georgia wrongful death law, often based on the testimony of an economist or accountant.
The intangible aspect of value of the life includes factors such as the enjoyment of the experience of living and relationships with loved ones. In the case of the death of a young parent, the jury may consider the value to the mother of being around to raise and nurture her children and to grow old with her husband.
The full value of the life is determined only by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury based on the evidence presented. Under Georgia law, there is no arbitrary formula or cap on the value of a human life.
The decedent’s husband, parents, siblings, etc., testified about various aspects of the value of her wonderful life. My colleagues Charles McAleer and Nelson Tyrone did a fine job of putting it all together.
Ken Shigley is an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, whose practice focuses on representing people who are catastrophically injured, and families of those killed. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury and burn injury cases. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). Currently he is treasurer of the 41,000 member State Bar of Georgia and a national board member of the American Association for Justice Interstate Trucking Litigation Group.
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