When a loved one is lost because of a wrongful death, one complicated matter is putting a value on that person's life. Wrongful death cases involve requesting a lump sum of money to compensate for the loss of a family member. The Daily Report discusses a case in Georgia where a trucking company is appealing the court's decision to award a widow $40 million for a wrongful death verdict. The case began in 2007 when businessman William Foster, his wife Teresa and a friend were traveling in a pickup truck on a local highway in Georgia. A tractor-trailer leased by Landstar Ranger Inc. ran a stop sign and hit the pickup truck killing Foster and the passenger and injuring Theresa Foster. She, in turn, sued the company for wrongful death as well as for her own injuries and suffering.
The judge awarded Mrs. Foster $28.68 million for the value of her husband's life including future earnings plus additional funds for his funeral expenses, property damage and the mental suffering he experienced immediately before his death. She was also awarded another $11.2 million in damages for her own injuries, medical expenses, paid and suffering and emotional distress. In addition, Mrs. Foster requested to be compensated for her lawyers' fees and court costs. Altogether, she was awarded $40 million. Now, the trucking company is appealing this decision.
Prior to the original case Landstar Ranger Inc. already admitted liability. The hearing was simply to determine how much Mrs. Foster was entitled to. Their attorneys are arguing that William Foster's potential earnings would not have been equal to 28.68 million. They state that this is one of the largest wrongful death rulings in the history of the state of Georgia and is more than what is fair. The estimated potential earnings were based on a startup company that did not fully take off until several years after Foster's staff. In addition, there were many questions as to the success of the company that he was involved in and attorneys for the trucking company do not believe that his earning potential would've been so high. They also believe that the $11 million that included the payment of Teresa Foster pain and suffering was too high as she was rendered unconscious after the accident and did not witness her husband's death.
In response Mrs. Foster's attorney stated that the expected income was about $14.3 million over the rest of William Foster's life based on his past earnings. In addition, they believe that the intangible value of his life was worth at least as much as his earnings potential and that is where the $28.6 million number came from.
This case is tragic not only because of the loss of life, but because the widow is forced to debate what her husband's life was worth. Some people feel that these large awards are unreasonable but putting into dollars the value of a loved one's life is a difficult thing; no value seems high enough. When a loved one is lost due to the negligence of another party, the only recourse the family has is often through a wrongful death suit. The Court of Appeals has yet to make a decision on this case. Hopefully they will uphold the original verdict and let Mrs. Foster move on with her life.