A wrongful death lawsuit brought by survivors of a mesothelioma victim will be allowed to proceed, despite a previous successful personal injury lawsuit the woman filed on her own behalf prior to her death.
In Riggs v. Georgia-Pacific LLC, justices on the Utah Supreme Court ruled that wrongful death actions are separate from personal injury actions and are intended to compensate for different kinds of losses, even when they are brought against the same defendants for the same alleged actions.
This is not, as some critics would assert, about double recovery. Plaintiffs in personal injury actions are suing for their own economic and special losses, including medical bills, lost wages, loss of life enjoyment, and pain and suffering. Those in wrongful death actions are suing for the loss of companionship and economic support that individual would have provided had decedent lived as he or she should have were it not for the negligence or wrongdoing of the defendant.
Our mesothelioma plaintiff attorneys are dedicated to ensuring families are fully compensated for the enormous losses – economic and emotional – suffered as a result of companies concealing the harmful effects of asbestos in their products.
In the Riggs case, decedent developed mesothelioma in 2007. This rare disease is caused by exposure to asbestos. Later that same year, decedent filed a personal injury lawsuit against both Georgia-Pacific and Union Carbide (among several other defendants). She alleged negligence, failure to warn, and strict product liability against companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products to which she was exposed in the school where she worked and in several residences where she lived.
At a trial in 2010, a jury found in her favor, awarding her $5.25 million in damages. The percentage of fault was divvied up among defendants, with Union Carbide responsible for 20 percent and Georgia-Pacific responsible for five percent. (Other defendants received a greater portion of fault.)
Thirteen days after that verdict was handed down, the woman died. An appellate court affirmed the personal injury judgment.
Two years after her death, her heirs filed a wrongful death and survival action against the same defendants named in the personal injury action, and a few that were not. Here again, damages were sought for negligence, failure to warn, and strict liability, and heirs sought both compensatory and punitive damages for her death.
Plaintiffs admitted they were not allowed to re-litigate the same issues decided in the personal injury action. However, they asserted the key point in their case was whether exposure to asbestos produced by defendants caused the decedent’s death and, if so, what damages were owed to her heirs.
Defendants requested dismissal of the claims on grounds the personal injury action precluded a wrongful death lawsuit. The district court denied that request, finding the wrongful death lawsuit to be a separate and independent cause of action. The state supreme court granted review at the defendants’ request and affirmed the district court’s findings.
The language in wrongful death law in most states allows for a cause of action when a death is the result of a negligent or wrongful act of another. A prior personal injury lawsuit against the same defendant for the same action may not preclude an independent lawsuit brought by a decedent’s heirs.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Riggs v. Georgia-Pacific LLC, Jan. 30, 2015, Utah Supreme Court
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