Wrongful Death Damages Limited, Riggs v. Georgia-Pacific, LLC

The Supreme Court of Utah ruled that a recovery by an asbestos plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit does not bar a subsequent wrongful death claim brought by his heirs, but there cannot be any double recovery. The plaintiff, who had peritoneal mesothelioma, went to trial against Georgia-Pacific and Union Carbide and was awarded a substantial recovery. Following his death, the plaintiff’s heirs brought a wrongful death and survival claim against Georgia-Pacific, Union Carbide, and others seeking recovery under Utah’s wrongful death statute, which specifically stated such a claim was an independent cause of action. The Supreme Court of Utah, in this case of first impression, ruled that under the plain language of the statute the heirs could pursue a wrongful death claim, but strongly cautioned the lower court that any attempt at double recovery of damages already awarded in the personal injury lawsuit would be impermissible. The court’s rationale was as follows: “[T]he purpose of the wrongful death action is to compensate the heirs for their losses — and if the injured person was already awarded damages for lost wages, the heirs cannot be said to have lost those.”

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