How much is too much in wrongful death damages?

The value of human life is in many ways a subjective question. In wrongful death lawsuits, Georgia courts and juries consider two basic criteria to arrive at a dollar figure to measure the cost of a life that has been truncated by the wrongful act of another person: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages measure more tangible losses connected with the loss of a loved one,  such as lost income expectancy and costs associated with medical expenses preceding the death as well as funeral and burial expenses. Non-economic damages are ones associated with what many people consider to be "pain and suffering" injuries, and these can be much harder to calculate with certainty.

Occasionally the jury's decision on how much to award in damages can itself be the subject of a dispute between the plaintiffs and the defendant's. This is what has happened in a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit that was recently decided against Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, in which the jury awarded the plaintiffs $150 million in connection with the death of their four year-old son when an allegedly defective gasoline tank exploded after a rear-end collision. 

Fiat-Chrysler has challenged the jury award, claiming it to be so excessive as to "shock the conscience". Its attorneys have made a motion to the court seeking a reduction of the award to $5 million, or in the alternative to set aside the verdict altogether. The plaintiffs' attorneys have claimed that a $50 million amount would be fair. The judge has asked both sides for additional information before making a decision on the motion.

Under ordinary circumstances the plaintiffs in a wrongful death case will seek the maximum award possible if they prevail, in part to compensate for the loss of a loved one and to some degree to punish the person or company whose wrongful act caused the death. In some rare situations, though, a jury award can be so large that it can create challenges of its own if the defendant balks at the amount, as is the case here. In such an eventuality, it will be up to the plaintiff's attorney to present the best possible arguments to either preserve the original award, or to keep any reduction to a minimum.

Source: Sowegalive, "Fiat-Chrysler wants court to reduce $150M judgment in Walden case," July 19, 2015

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