Jury Awards $2 Million to Family of Wrongful Death Victim in Case Involving Drowning of Disabled Adult
Our Atlanta personal injury lawyers at Montlick and Associates frequently are asked if injury victims can handle their own personal injury claims. While there is no specific rule that prevents this approach, the process of proving a claim can be extremely complex. In serious injury cases insurance companies typically use well regarded expert witnesses to contest the cause of death or the extent of injury. Experienced wrongful death attorneys recognize the types of evidence critical to proving a wrongful death claim. Law firms that regularly handle wrongful death claims also will have access to their own network of experts.
A Fulton County case involving the drowning of a developmentally disabled adult in the pool of an assisted living facility provides an example of the types of conflicting evidence that can complicate a wrongful death lawsuit. The decedent died in the swimming pool of the facility during a party hosted for residents and guests. The mother of the decedent sued the company that ran the facility and the owner of the property individually and as the representative of her son's estate.
The key issue in the wrongful death lawsuit involved whether the decedent's death was caused by a heart attack or a seizure that caused him to drown. The plaintiff alleged that the decedent, who had a history of seizures, suffered a seizure resulting in him slipping and sinking beneath the surface of the water. The decedent was at the bottom of the pool for six minutes before members of the staff noticed what had happened to the decedent.
The plaintiff relied on a video that showed the decedent making a sudden jerking motion before spinning around twice. Then he is seen slipping under the water and convulsing for about five seconds before going limp. He remained under water for six minutes.
The medical examiner was a critical witness for the defense. He indicated that the decedent did not exhibit traditional signs of drowning, such as water in his stomach or sinuses, hyper-inflated lungs or foam in the lungs. His report concluded that the cause of death was idiopathic seizure with submersion in shallow water. The medical examiner conceded that the six minutes submerged under water was a factor in causing the death and that sometimes the traditional signs of drowning are not present. He also indicated that the submersion had resulted in the lungs being heavier than usual.
The defense used this testimony to support its position that the decedent suffered a heart attack that caused his death prior to his sinking to the bottom of the pool. The report of the medical examiner noted an enlarged heart which was offered in support of the defense's theory that the decedent's death was caused by a massive heart attack. The defendant also presented evidence from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Chief Medical Examiner that pointed to the enlarged heart and lack of signs of drowning to support the conclusion that the death was caused by a heart attack rather than drowning.
The plaintiff presented expert testimony from an anesthesiologist who is an expert in drowning deaths. According to plaintiff's expert, the decedent exhibited all of the symptoms of drowning.
The jury considered the competing expert testimony and returned a verdict of over $2 million in the wrongful death case. While the expert testimony presented in this trial has been simplified for purposes of this blog post, this lawsuit demonstrates the complex types of evidence often presented in a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. It is hard to imagine an unrepresented plaintiff securing and challenging these types of medical evidence.
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If you or someone close to you suffers injury or you lose a loved one because of the negligence of another, contact our experienced Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyers for a free consultation to learn how we can help. Our attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and in the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.