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California Court of Appeal Upholds a $45M Wrongful Death Verdict in the Case of a Fatally Injured Single Mom

In a fatal auto accident case, there are many forms of damages to which you may be entitled. Some of these, which may include emotional matters like the loss of the deceased’s “advice” or the loss of the deceased’s “companionship,” can sometimes be difficult to quantify. That’s why, if you have been harmed by an auto accident and have suffered emotionally, you need an experienced San Mateo wrongful death attorney to help you make the most persuasive and effective presentation possible to the court to get you the full amount of compensation you deserve.

The law generally permits you to recover as much the jury believes you have proven to them. As a recent case demonstrates, the amount to which you can be awarded isn’t capped by what other juries have awarded in previous similar cases.

In that recent case, E.J. was driving drunk and was being chased by CHP officers. E.J. crashed into a crowd near a taco truck, killing two. One of the fatally injured was 38-year-old C.F., a single mother of four. In court, the children sued both the driver, E.J., and the owner of the vehicle, M.E.R., for wrongful death.

The suit named the owner because the law allows you to collect injury damages from a vehicle owner in an auto accident case if you prove that the owner was negligent in allowing the driver to operate the vehicle. (This is called “negligent entrustment.”)

The jury ultimately found both the driver and the owner liable and awarded the four children $45 million in damages. The driver and the owner contended that $11.25 million to each of C.F.’s children was an excessively large amount. To back up that argument, the two women compared the damages awarded in their case to other wrongful death verdicts.

The use of comparison verdicts is of ‘limited utility’

In its opinion addressing the damages award, the Court of Appeal said that the “value” of a plaintiff’s loss is not like the value of a house. While real estate professionals often use “comps” as a tool to determine a property’s value, that doesn’t work for damages awards. Comparing verdicts is of limited usefulness, the court instructed, because “each case must be decided on its own facts and circumstances.” Because each case has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, each case will have its own unique set of injuries, its own unique degree of harm to the plaintiffs, and damages awards will have the potential to “vary greatly.”

In this family’s case, the defense cited many other cases where children lost parents due to defendants’ negligence and the damages awards were lower. But, as the appeals court noted, none of those cases involved the murder of a single mother whose death orphaned four children, three of which were under 18 at the time. The proof in this case demonstrated clearly that the two of three youngest experienced “deteriorating academic and social lives” after their mother’s death, which showed just how severely the loss of their mother’s guidance hurt them.

The eldest, 22 at the time of the mother’s death, also had her life forever changed. She went from being a college student to being the legal guardian and mother-figure to three boys (her brothers.) In sum, there was nothing about the case record from this trial that would indicate that the $45 million award was excessively large, according to the court. The simple fact that other children received less in their wrongful death lawsuits was not enough to reverse what this jury awarded.

The fundamental truth from this case is that each case in unique. You can, however, get a good idea of the amount of compensation your case might generate by talking an experienced attorney who has knowledge of the law and also knowledge of the juries in a particular location. For reliable advice and effective strategies for your damages case, contact the skilled San Mateo wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos. Our thoughtful and determined attorneys have spent many years helping families get what they deserve from the legal system. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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