Last week, jury in South Carolina rendered a $9 million wrongful death verdict, a record for that county. The lawsuit involved a young man who died after being electrocuted by a high voltage line which landed on his driveway. The young man sustained serious electrical burns, but was initially able to respond to medical staff who attempted to care for him. Sadly, he passed away two hours later due to complications from burns and cardiac arrhythmia.
The jury verdict was for $5.5 million in punitive damages and $3.5 million in wrongful death damages. The young man’s family had claimed that the power company was negligent for failing to properly maintain the utility pole and for failing to respond to repair requests.
The decedent obviously sustained horrific burns before dying. The damages in this case certainly included survival damages. These are given for conscious pain and suffering prior to death. The jury was presented with evidence of his discussions with medical care staff. This evidence not only proved the fact that he experienced conscious pain and suffering, but were probably important factors in driving the jury’s assessment of damages.
One thing that experienced personal injury lawyers do in wrongful death cases is carefully scour the medical records to identify witnesses who can establish the fact that the deceased experienced conscious pain and suffering. These are often nurses, paramedics, and orderlies who were involved in the care of the decedent before he or she lapses into unconsciousness.
Early in my career, we represented the estate of a boy who died from injuries sustained in a house fire. The first witnesses we subpoenaed was a paramedic who found the boy praying in the back yard. His deposition set the stage for a significant settlement. Finding witnesses like that make a treamendous differencein how insurers evaluate their liability exposure and how they approach settling wrongful death cases.