Florida Wrongful Death Auto Accident: 13 Million Dollar Jury Verdict — Lawyer Analysis
(Video Transcript Below)
Hi, I’m Tina Willis and I’m a Florida catastrophic injury and wrongful death lawyer. As part of my job, I often review verdict and settlement information from across the state so that I can advise my clients about whether they should settle their case or take their case to a jury trial.
This case I came across today was a $13 million award in a Florida wrongful death auto accident case. I want to tell you a little about the case and then share my thoughts on why the verdict was so high, but also some cautionary information.
Florida Wrongful Death Auto Accident: What Happened In This Case?
This case was very tragic. It involves a 36 year old mother of three young children. She had a husband and three young children, and she was driving in the Alachua County area of Florida. She was driving along and she was coming up to a curve. Meanwhile, the other driver, the at fault driver, was coming in the opposite direction, and he attempted to pass a lane of cars in a no passing zone on a curve. He was going 90 miles an hour. And so you can imagine the outcome. There was a head on collision, and unfortunately this young mother died, actually, both drivers died, but this young mother died. And the case went through an extensive pretrial period, which is normal in these cases. But ultimately in the jury trial, her family was awarded $13 million.
Of course the money means nothing, right? I often say that I would give every penny I’ve ever earned to reverse the outcomes, but we can’t do that. But the family needs the money. Often we will have family members who are grieving and who are having trouble moving forward with their lives on an emotional level, sometimes on a professional level, especially if they lost the breadwinner in the family. But they have to move forward and they need money to do that. So I still believe that our job is very important in that we are bringing emotional and financial relief to the family.
Why Was This Wrongful Death Verdict So High?
So first I want to share why I think this verdict was so high.
There Were Four Survivors In This Tragic Case, And Each Person Had A Separate Legal Claim
The first thing you need to know is that there were four survivors in this case. Florida’s wrongful death statute defines survivors. There are certain people who can file wrongful death cases and who can recover under Florida’s wrongful death statute. And that definitely includes a spouse and minor children. So in this case, there were four survivors, the husband and their three children, each one of those people had their own individual claim and entitlement to money damages.
So you can, for each individual person, you can mentally, you can sort of divide that verdict by four.
The At-Fault Driver’s Actions Were Horrible By Anyone’s Standard
The next thing is that this driver’s actions by anyone’s measure were just atrocious. He wasn’t just a little bit bad. He was very, very bad, and we all can relate to it. So jurors can relate to just how tragic this was and unnecessary because the man was violating multiple laws, traffic laws. He was going at an extremely high rate of speed. He was passing in a no passing zone and he was doing all of this on a curve, for crying out loud. So the woman, the victim had absolutely no chance of even seeing him much less, you know, doing anything to protect herself. And jurors are heavily influenced by just how bad the defendant was or not, when they’re choosing the amount of money they’re going to award.
Because keep in mind that there’s no chart somewhere that tells us, there’s no chart in the law that says, this is how much a wrongful death case is worth. There’s nothing like that. Instead jurors get to make the decision for themselves.
The Survivors & The Decedent Had Very Close Relationships
Another thing about the value of a wrongful death case, which is more important, extremely important is the closeness of the relationship between the survivors and the person who passed away. So, one of the biggest parts of our job is to gather evidence, to tell the story of how close the family was. That would definitely include photos of all sorts of types of family events, showing mother and her children happy together, maybe camping trips, sitting on the back patio videos of doing all sorts of things together. And we look through those to really try to find the best to present to the jury, to show the story of just how close this family was.
We also will ask the family, let’s get some witnesses who can tell us about how close the family was, letters and cards, and anything of the mother put up a photo of, of a calendar for her family or a chore list. Or there are so many different ways we can show just how close the family was. And we asked the family to help us in that endeavor, tell us about the things that would show the closeness of the relationship. And we will pull out all the stops to gather the evidence, to prove that this family was really close in contrast.
What If The Survivor & Decedent Hadn’t Been Close?
If in some cases the family member who calls us might not have been that close to the person who passed away. In those cases, we still can recover a lot of money. It really depends, but we definitely would have a different strategy. And we talk with our clients and explain why our strategy and plan in light of the fact that we’re not going to be able to prove that there was a close relationship. For one thing, we will dig to make sure there’s nothing that we could present that would show a connection between the family members. But if we really can’t, then we will have a different strategy in the case.
Words Of Caution About High Reported & Advertised Wrongful Death Jury Verdicts
Now I want to tell you some cautionary things to know about any time you see a big jury verdict award being advertised.
High Verdicts Aren’t Always Real Money Going To Families
This is pretty important. And a lot of people don’t understand this whenever we have a jury verdict, the only thing we have is a piece of paper. It’s a judgment from a court that says you’re entitled to receive $13 million. The problem is we have to enforce that order, that judgment, and the only way we can enforce it is if there’s money to back it up. So a big, huge question, in any wrongful death case, really an extremely critical question is how much money is available? And that includes insurance coverage. Most of the time we are trying to obtain insurance coverage. Possibly, if it’s a business, if the business has assets or individual assets, we may also be seeking assets.
In most cases, if an individual caused the accident, we are going to be limited by the amount of their auto insurance coverage. There are exceptions to that general rule. Sometimes some people are driving around who are woefully under insured, and they actually have a lot of assets, but that is not the norm.
Really High Insurance Coverage Often Involves Businesses, Commercial Trucks, Semi-Trucks, Uber Or Lyft, Fed Ex, And The Like
So most of the time, really high coverage amounts are going to come through businesses, commercial trucks, or semi-trucks. Or things like Uber and Lyft. If there is a corporate defendant on the other side, particularly a bigger one, then there’s more likely to be a higher amount of money that we can fight to get for you. Now we uncover every stone here, to try to find all possible sources of money (which some lawyers sometimes overlook). But that’s just something you should know.
So if you get a $13 million verdict against someone, but the person only had $10,000 in insurance coverage, and they have no assets, the most money we’re going to be able to get is $10,000. And that specific scenario would rarely happen because we find out very early in the case how much money is available. And we wouldn’t fight hard in a case where there was only 10,000 in coverage because we wouldn’t need to fight because the insurance company would be falling over themselves to send us that check.
And we would get that we would get the most money possible very quickly.
But still in a case where there’s a thirteen million dollar verdict, most likely, the case wouldn’t have gone all the way to trial, had there been a low insurance coverage amount. I don’t know the coverage amount in this particular case. But the attorneys would not have taken it all the way to trial and verdict, if there was no money available or very little money available. But there still might have “only” been, let’s say a million dollar policy or a $2 million policy. And those lawyers will then be limited by that amount. In other words, when you see a high reported verdict, the plaintiff may have recovered less.
Many Cases Settle Before Trial For Less Money, To Avoid The Risk Of Going To Trial
Another thing is that not all cases will go all the way to a jury, many cases. In fact, most cases I’ve seen stats of 98% of cases settle before trial.
That’s important for a lot of reasons. I’m not going to get into all of them in this video. But what you should understand is that if a case settles before a jury trial, then by definition almost, you’re not going to settle for as high of an amount, because the reason that insurance companies settle cases is because they’re afraid of a verdict this size, they’re afraid of a runaway high jury verdict. So they want to get a deal. They want to offer less than they think you might be able to get from a jury. And the reason that plaintiff’s, or the victims, will settle and not go to jury trial is because you don’t know what jurors are going to decide. Even in a really egregious case like this one, if you go to a really conservative county, then you might find jurors who just don’t believe that plaintiff should get that much money.
So we explain the pros and cons to our clients when they’re trying to decide whether to settle their wrongful death case, or go to a jury trial. But just understand that you’re always taking a risk when you go to a jury trial. For some clients that’s worth the risk, and they want a jury to decide their fate. But for others, they want to get a high amount, but not try to swing for the fences and risk that they could get nothing, especially if there are bad facts. So we advise our clients. It’s very nuanced advice, which depends on the county we’re in, what facts and evidence we’ve seen from the defendants, what facts and evidence we have, including if there are any shortcomings in our case. For example, if were problems in the relationship and the defense might be able to bring those out at trial.
So each case is very different. But we advise our clients when they’re trying to make those decisions: this is our opinion about whether you should settle your case or not. And it’s always their choice. Absolutely. Always their choice. What is also important is that we prepare the cases as if we are going to take every single one of them to trial. If we are litigating a case, we work very hard to explain to our clients in an extremely nuanced way, all of the pros and cons in their case, what we see as the upside high or low from a jury, and that there are so many different factors. It just depends. But just keep that in mind, if, if you happen to be trying to decide what your case is worth.
Do You Need A Florida Auto Accident Wrongful Death Lawyer?
So if you have tragically lost a loved one, we would very much like you to give us a call. We have a small team of lawyers all have 20 to 30 years of experience, and have handled many cases, wrongful death cases, catastrophic injury cases on both the plaintiffs and the defense side. And if you live in another state, we may or may not be able to handle the case ourselves.
Can You Fire Your Existing Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer?
If you have a pending wrongful death case, first of all, we get a lot of inquiries from people. Can I fire my lawyer and hire you guys? And the answer to that question is it totally depends on the status of your case and why you’re not happy with your lawyer and what work your lawyer has done so far in the case,. If it’s early in the case, then we definitely can get involved in those cases and give you a second opinion, if you want one.
In other cases, it’s really too late. The lawyer’s done too much work and we can’t get involved because you would owe two attorneys. So we can’t get involved. But even if you can’t hire us, I encourage you to subscribe to this channel, to click for notifications, and to follow the videos that I produce, because a client who’s more educated about the process can actually help their lawyers because they understand we need to collect evidence to help you. And that can vary so much from case to case as to what would help us the most, but we always need our client’s help in gathering the evidence to help us see their lives and understand how to tell their story. So you can help your own lawyer if you’re more educated about what is needed in these types of cases. So please do subscribe.
Until next time, I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.