Florida Wrongful Death Law Violates Public Policy of Georgia

Travis Hardaway was killed when the tractor-trailer he was driving on Interstate 10 in Jacksonville, Florida struck the rear of the tractor-trailer driven by Clifford Pauldo in the course of his employment for Carroll Fulmer Logistics Corp. (“CFL”). Hardaway died shortly after the collision from burns and smoke inhalation when, as a result of the collision, the driver’s compartment of his tractor-trailer burst into flames. Both drivers were Georgia residents. Hardaway’s Estate brought a wrongful death action in Georgia against Pauldo and CFL. Generally, under Georgia law, because the incident giving rise to the lawsuit occurred in Florida, the substantive law of Florida would apply. However, Georgia recognizes a public policy exception to this rule. Under the exception, even if the tort occurred in another state, Georgia Courts will not apply the other state’s substantive law if that law contravenes the public policy of Georgia.

Florida and Georgia have substantially different wrongful death laws. In Georgia, a survivor has the right to recover the full value of the life of the deceased without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the deceased had he or she lived. Damages are measured from the deceased’s point of view and there is no recovery for damages in Georgia for mental or emotional suffering experienced by the deceased’s survivors as a result of the wrongful death. That is not the case in Florida. Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, survivors have the right to recover damages suffered by the survivor, not by the deceased, as a result of the deceased’s injury and death. The Court of Appeals found that this was a significant enough difference so that application of Florida law would violate the public policy of the State of Georgia and therefore Florida wrongful death law should not apply.

This ruling can be used in any case involving a wrongful death action filed in Georgia but where the occurrence took place in another state. If the other state’s wrongful death laws are significantly different than Georgia’s, then Georgia courts are likely to apply Georgia law. This case also shows a willingness on the part of the Court of Appeals to examine closely all laws of other states to determine if they differ substantially from Georgia’s laws and not to blindly apply another state’s law in Georgia courts.

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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.