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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Personal Injury > Georgia Appeals Court Upholds $22 Million Wrongful Death Judgment

Georgia Appeals Court Upholds $22 Million Wrongful Death Judgment


If your spouse is killed due to the negligent or intentional act of another person or legal entity, you have the right under Georgia law to recover damages against the responsible parties through a wrongful death claim. Damages in Georgia wrongful death cases can be quite substantial depending on the facts of the case. A jury can award compensation for the “full value of the life” of the victim as well as the spouse’s own pain and suffering due to the loss of their life partner.

Signed Waiver No Defense Against “Gross Negligence”

For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently upheld a $22 million jury verdict in a wrongful death claim brought by the widow of a man who died while riding his dirt bike at an off-road park. The victim was a frequent guest of the park. He usually rode on a specific trail known as the “Bomber Track.”

On the day of the victim’s death, he went to the park as normal. Park management required him to sign a release waiving his right to sue in the event of injury or death while riding on the trail. The victim signed the release.

As the victim was riding on the Bomber Track, the owner of the park was driving an excavator across the same trail into the adjacent woods. The owner later testified that he knew there were patrons using the track, but he wanted to move the excavator in anticipation of work he intended to complete the next day. But within a few moments after crossing the track, the owner said he saw a motorcycle lying on the track. The owner found the victim’s body next to his downed dirt bike and a tree lying across the track. A police officer who attended the scene later testified the owner told him that he “thought he had a tree” with the excavator.

The victim’s widow subsequently sued the park, the owner individually, and several other defendants. At trial, the defense presented no evidence beyond a mere assertion that the victim was killed by a falling tree before the excavator crossed the track. The jury returned a verdict for the widow and awarded over $22 million in damages.

On appeal, the defense argued that the victim’s signed waiver released the defendants from all liability arising from his death. The Court of Appeals disagreed. While a defendant can rely upon a victim’s signed release to “exempt itself from its own simple negligence,” a defendant “cannot exempt itself from gross negligence in a waiver.” Here, the widow presented evidence of gross negligence, i.e., the owner chose to operate the excavator near the Bomber Track even though he knew there were customers using the trail at the time–an act that violated the defendants’ own written safety procedures.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

Losing a spouse or other immediate family member is never easy. And if you believe that someone else’s actions were to blame, you should speak with an experienced Alpharetta personal injury lawyer who can advise you on a potential wrongful death claim. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



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