a plaintiff can recover “the full value of a deceased’s life” in a Georgia wrongful death suit. However, where the bulk of a damage claim is for non-economic value, or what made the lost life at the heart of a case special, the damages argument becomes more complicated. In a wrongful death case involving a 22-year-old hairstylist and mother of two, Trent Speckhals’ closing argument emphasized the importance of non-economic damages and helped deliver a hefty award. Mitchell v. The Estate of Otis South, 09A03669.
Fatima Bird died in a late night, 2008 head-on wreck with Otis South, a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on I-20 in Douglas County, Georgia.
In closings of last month’s trial, defense attorneys asked jurors to award Bird's family between $500,000 and $1 million for the loss of the part-time hairstylist and mother of two young children.
However, Speckhals Law’s Trent Speckhals highlighted the special nature of the non-economic underlying the case. “We live in a society where a Ferrari car, a Ferrari, recently sold for $54 million. Think about that. A silver dollar just sold for $10 million. Why were they so expensive? It’s because our society puts great value in rare and unique things,” Speckhals said, arguing a $10 million award for Bird’s death might not be enough. “Is there anything more rare and unique than an individual person?”
Calling the case “about a life that will never be,” Speckhals reminded jurors of testimony from Bird’s family and friends, and the possibilities that had been cut short by the fatal wreck. “At 22, her future held all sorts of promises. We don’t know exactly what her life would have become,” Speckhals said, noting Bird’s love for hairstyling, the law, and forensics could have led her along a variety of careers.
Speckhals added Bird’s potentially most tragic loss fell with the life she would never share with her children, who were 2 and 10 months old when their mother died. “She’s never going to hear the four most beautiful words a mother could hear,”Speckhals said. “She never got to hear, ‘I love you, Mommy.”
The jury awarded $5.35 million.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
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