Georgia Supreme Court Rules on Woman Left in Coma
Several years after a woman was left in a coma, a recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling could have a wide-ranging impact on similar cases. The woman, Delia Bibbs, suffered catastrophic injuries when the clasp on her seatbelt allegedly failed during a car accident. Her husband filed suit against Toyota, who they claim manufactured a defective device. The woman died after spending nearly 20 years in a coma, but the family had already filed a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota and won. A jury awarded them $36 million, but the family ultimately settled after Toyota vowed to appeal the verdict.
In a case like this, the law is unclear as to what should happen if the woman died without ever waking up from the coma. In this case, she did, which forced the Georgia Supreme Court to render a decision on whether or not the family could sue again under Georgia’s wrongful death laws.
The Terms of the Settlement
The terms of the settlement stipulated that Toyota, upon paying out on the settlement, was released from all damages and liabilities excluding wrongful death. The woman never awoke from her coma and, after 20 years in a vegetative state, died as a result of her injuries. The question then became, after paying out on her injuries, what precisely was Toyota liable for now that it became apparent that the woman died from her injuries?
The Family Sues Again
After the woman died, her husband brought a second lawsuit against Toyota for the defective seat belt. The court, however, determined that, although the terms of the settlement did not bar the family from bringing an action against Toyota on the grounds of wrongful death, it did, on the other hand, bar the family from recovering damages. It further absolved Toyota of all liabilities under the terms of the settlement. The court dismissed the case on those grounds.
The family appealed the decision claiming that the lower court had over-interpreted the document or interpreted in a way that it was not meant to be interpreted. They maintained that the settlement agreement only absolved Toyota of damages and liabilities related to the personal injury settlement and not the wrongful death action. While there is a lot of overlap between wrongful death and personal injury cases, there are some key differences as well.
Similarities include loss of employability, medical expenses related to their injury, and other economic damages. In addition, there are some noneconomic damages that overlap as well. These include loss of companionship, loss of ability to enjoy life, and so on. The court reasoned that, while the previous settlement should substantially limit the damages that the family could claim under the terms of the settlement, it should not eradicate them completely. Something had changed. The woman’s life, while she was in the coma, could not be said to have no value at all. The court ruled that the family should be able to recover damages for funeral expenses (that were not included in the original settlement) and certain noneconomic damages related to their loved one’s death.
Talk to a Georgia and Florida Wrongful Death Attorney
The Jacksonville attorneys at Gillette Law help families recover damages when their loved one has been lost. In addition, we can help you recover damages if you are injured by another’s negligence. Give us a call or talk to us online to set up a free consultation.