Plaintiff Wins $17M After Death Of Husband
A woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit after her husband, a contractor, died while installing a cellular wireless system. Details concerning his death are sparse due to confidentiality agreements, but we know that the lawsuit settled for $17 million.
The case remained in litigation for a year as defense counsel deposed witnesses and employees of the defendant. Their initial strategy was to defend their client. However, after a year of depositions, they realized there was no defense and their client was 100% negligent for the death of the contractor.
At that point, their strategy shifted. Instead of claiming that the contractor was at fault for his own death, they shifted tactics and claimed that workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy. It would turn out that they would lose again, but this tactic is not unusual.
The method of exhaustion
In cases like this, defense attorneys often utilize a strategy involving attempting to exhaust the plaintiff’s resources and willpower. The trick is to exasperate the plaintiff’s counsel and the plaintiff so that they will accept a cheap settlement. Hence, they spend a year dredging up information in depositions from employees and then turn around and make an exclusive remedy defense to defeat the claim and route the payments through workers’ compensation. In this case, they were unsuccessful and the plaintiff got her money. Below, we’ll discuss why.
Understanding workers’ compensation and exclusive remedy
Essentially, employees of companies that carry an active workers’ compensation insurance policy are prohibited from filing a lawsuit against their employer. The upside is that they can collect workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who actually caused the injury.
In this case, the company tried to defend the lawsuit first by saying they were not negligent and then by admitting they were negligent, but that the lawsuit was barred by workers’ compensation immunity. Typically, if a defendant was going to win on that basis, they would try to bar the lawsuit first and then defend their client. Nonetheless, the defendants were able to keep the ball in play without a settlement for a few months more by making this claim.
The reason why the defendants chose to settle when they did had everything to do with the approaching jury trial. Once their workers’ compensation defense was dismissed, it became apparent they were going to have to face a jury. They didn’t want to face a jury after hearing the depositions, so they settled for a large figure to avoid a larger figure delivered by a sympathetic jury.
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