This case is a great example of how a jury can value a person’s life in a meaningful way, even if the person doesn’t make a lot of money or have an unblemished background.
The widow of a man killed after being hit by two vehicles while walking home after being released from jail was awarded more than $1 Million in damages by a Gwinnet County jury.
Danny Daniel, an out-of-work plumber who had been arrested for a DUI and put in jail, was walking home after his release when he was hit by a car, then run over by a garbage truck. His widow sued the two drivers.
The case dealt with two difficult issues: the “value” of Daniel’s life in terms of the damage award and the apportionment of liability between the parties. Daniel had seen no paycheck in the last two years of his life and his widow’s attorney, Craig T. Jones, argued that the issue of damages went beyond future income and testimony from expert witness economists. “Human life has value beyond someone’s paycheck,” he said.
The jury ultimately found in the plaintiff’s favor and set the damages award at $1,633,000.
The week long trial also dealt with the “highly disputed” issue of liability. Both driver-defendants placed the blame on Daniel himself, who was walking in pre-dawn darkness along a four-lane limited access highway. The medical examiner could not make a determination of which vehicle’s blow was fatal to Daniel because his remains were scattered across the highway and found on the wheels of the truck.
The jury decided to apportion a share of the liability to each of the three parties. According to the jury form, Daniel himself was found to be 35 percent at fault for his own death. The jury decided that Kelly Gitaitis, driver of the Chevy Blazer that first hit Daniel, was 23 percent at fault, which translated into $375,590 in damages. The remaining 42 percent of liability was placed on Bobby Redmon, the driver of the Mack truck that ran over Daniel, and the owner of the vehicle, Republic Services of Georgia, a garbage disposal company; they were liable for $685,860 in damages.
The incident took place on Sept. 16, 2009. Daniel was released from jail after having spent three days there for his arrest for driving under the influence. His wife had visited him in jail to bring his medications for bipolar disorder, but officials held him until they could confirm that his medication was regulating his condition. He was released in the morning, but his wife was still asleep when he called her to pick him up. He left a message for her and then called a second time when he stopped at a Waffle House on his walk home. He knew his wife would soon be leaving for work and told her that he would be walking on Highway 316, which was the route she took to work. It was raining and still dark as Daniel walked home.
Daniel was near an exit ramp when he was hit by Gitaitis’s Chevy Blazer. Gitaitis was a person trainer on her way to an early appointment with a client. She said she did not see Daniel until he crashed into her windshield at about 4:45am. Right behind her was the Mack truck, whose driver said he saw something fly off the roof of the car in front but thought it was a deer.
Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of our firm’s “The Federal Docket” and a contributor to Mercer Law Review’s Annual Survey in the areas of federal law. Tom was named a “Top 40 Under 40” lawyer by The National Trial Lawyers, and is a recognized expert in federal sentencing law. He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.