Court of Appeals Affirms $5M Wrongful Death Award

The interesting legal issue on appeal was whether the pain and suffering award was supported by the evidence. Defendant argued that there was testimony that Camacho was unconscious immediately after the collision and therefore the amount of damages awarded was unwarranted. The police officer testified that when he arrived at the scene there was a doctor talking to Camacho. When the officer saw her, Camacho “was bleeding from her mouth, her head and ear area.” “She was basically trying to say something. I remember the blood coming out of her mouth and her fighting for her life. And apparently, she was more concerned about her child . . . you could see her eyes rolling towards the back . . . and you could hear the child screaming in the back in the car seat.” The officer testified further “It’s stuck in the back of my head, that picture of her just sitting there just trying to talk, I guess, gurgling blood and looking back towards her kid. I’ve worked a lot of wrecks; none of them ever bothered like this one has.”

Defendant argued that two of the eyewitnesses testified that Camacho was unconscious when they saw her immediately after the accident and, therefore, the amount of the jury’s verdict was unwarranted because Camacho was either completely unconscious or conscious for only a short period of time (ie. no “conscious pain and suffering”). The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and found that unless the jury’s verdict was so fragrantly excessive or inadequate in light of the evidence as to create a clear implication of bias, prejudice, or gross mistake by the jurors, it should be upheld. In a previous Court of Appeals decision from 2002, the Court had affirmed a $2,584,000. award for funeral expenses and pain and suffering when the medical evidence showed that death occurred within one or two minutes after an impact and the decedent may have lost consciousness prior to that.

This case has two hallmarks of a dangerous case to take to trial. The testimony of the Officer and the fact that a child was in the car and was screaming creates an extreme amount of sympathy for the decedent and her husband and child who survived her. Also, even though he admitted liability, there would be no sympathy for the drunk driver defendant. The jury’s award of almost $6M did not include any punitive damages, however, the size of the jury’s award suggests that it was angry. An angry jury is always a dangerous jury. It should be noted that the defense lawyer who tried this case is an excellent trial lawyer and I am sure he did the best that he could with this difficult case under the circumstances.

Please let me know if you would like a copy of the opinion. Also, please follow me on twitter. @rustmichaelj.


About the Author

Michael Rust graduated from Emory University in 1980 and Emory University School of Law in 1983 where he was Notes and Comments editor of the Emory Law Journal (Law Review). Since that time, he has maintained an active trial practice in the state of Georgia both in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Rust teaches litigation as part of Emory University School of Law’s annual Trial Practice Program. He has received AV rating from Martindale Hubble, the highest rating afforded to lawyers by their peers.