Partner Eugene Miller recently settled a Wrongful Death case just before trial. The case involved an 87 year old woman who was killed when her car struck a truck that was turning left at an intersection and failed to yield the right of way. The collision was witnessed by a Police Officer who almost struck the truck herself. The 87 year old woman died at the scene. She was survived by two children who were grown and had their own families. They were not financially dependent on their mother. Under Virginia law, the damages in a Wrongful Death case are limited. Rather than valuing the life of the person who is killed, the law values the losses to the beneficiaries who in this case were the surviving children. The losses are limited to sorrow, mental anguish, and solace, medical and funeral expenses, loss of income to the beneficiaries, and loss of services that the deceased provided to the beneficiaries. In this case, there was no loss of income or services and the medical and funeral expenses were fairly minimal.
As a result, the losses to the beneficiaries were in large part dependent on the emotional response by the beneficiaries to the loss of their mother. The life expectancy of their mother was also relevant. Unfortunately, the insurance company for the at-fault party did not value the losses to the beneficiaries very high due to their mother’s age. In order to prove the magnitude of these losses, Mr. Miller conducted extensive research into the family’s history and relationships. Numerous interviews with family, friends and other witnesses took place.
In addition, because questions were raised by the defense as to fault, and as to the cause of death, due to the age of the woman, extensive investigation into the accident was needed, including obtaining accident scene photographs, and interviewing the Police Officers involved, and obtaining records from and interviewing the Medical Examiner. Medical records were also acquired and reviewed. Mr. Miller proved to the defense that despite some age related heart issues, the woman was in very good health, had excellent vision, exercised regularly, and lived independently. As a retired teacher, she still actively tutored students in the community. She had no significant memory or cognitive issues. She was also an excellent and careful driver. She led an active life with her friends and family, and was looking forward to future events as a great grandmother and as the Matriarch of the family. She was loved dearly by her children and they suffered significant grief and anguish over her unexpected, sudden, and traumatic death. Mr. Miller was prepared for trial and had issued subpoenas to various witnesses. However, shortly after Mr. Miller took the video deposition of a friend who had lunch with the woman a mere 15 minutes before her death and testified as to her excellent state of mind and health, the insurance company for the defense significantly increased their offer of settlement.
The case finally settled for the sum of $650,000.00. Although money can never replace a life, our system of justice provides a means for compensating people who are damaged by the negligence of others. Unfortunately, our system of justice is not perfect because while the death of this woman caused significant anguish to the entire family, only the children were allowed to have their damages assessed and be compensated by the law.