Arguing damages stemming solely from non-economic loss can be difficult: A jury has no hard set of numbers to use as a starting point in calculating an award, while surviving plaintiffs' ability to cope following an incident can be used as an argument to mitigate non-economic loss. However, in closings of a 2019 damages-only trial over the death of a Florida mother hours after childbirth, Todd Michaels secured an eight-figure win by upending a defense contention on non-economic loss.
Lilia Torres died in July 2015, following massive bleeding that plaintiffs contend was caused by complications during Lilian Vargas’ birth. The doctors involved admitted liability in the case, limiting trial to a claim for non-economic damages for Torres' husband and four children.
In openings, the defense contended the family was doing as well as possible under the circumstances, pointing out that, although they had suffered a tremendous loss, they had “succeeded in moving on with their lives.”
During closings, Michaels, of The Haggard Law Firm, attacked the contention.
“Lilia Torres lost her life to the negligence of those four doctors. She certainly has not moved on with her life,” Michaels said, before highlighting the devastation the death wrought on the family.
Torres’ husband, “Rodolfo [Vargas-Chavez] lost the love of his life because four doctors failed to use reasonable care. Carlo, Octavio, and Estrella lost the most important person in their lives because four doctors failed to do what a reasonably careful physician would do under the circumstances,” Michaels added. “And Lilian was cheated out of ever meeting the woman who gave her life because four doctors treated her in a manner which was neither acceptable nor appropriate.”
Michaels argued that rather than “moving on” from the death, the family had simply done what was necessary to raise a motherless newborn while meeting the daily obligations of attending school, working, and paying bills.
“You could argue in some ways that they haven’t even begun to deal with July 22, 2015 yet, because life never stopped,” Michaels said. “They were never given the room that they needed to grieve.”
Jurors awarded $24.5 million to the family, including $3.675 million to Vargas-Chavez; $4.9 million each to three of Torres’ children; and $6.125 million to Lilian Daleyza Vargas.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.