GIL PURCELL, ESQ.
DAY/NIGHT (415) 599-6260
IN A CASE THE UTAH SUPREME COURT DESCRIBED AS ONE OF FIRST IMPRESSION, TODAY THE COURT ISSUED THE FOLLOWING DECISION REGARDING WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS OF HEIRS WHEN A PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUIT WAS PROSECUTED THROUGH VERDICT
Salt Lake City, UT January 30, 2015 – Vickie Warren was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in July 2007. She filed a personal injury lawsuit in the Third District Court, Salt Lake City, Utah in August 2007. She had a jury trial in May 2010, where the jury awarded a verdict of $5,256,818.61 against Hamilton Materials, Georgia Pacific, LLC, and Union Carbide Corporation. Vickie Warren passed away in May 2010, days after the jury awarded the five million dollar verdict.
As is typical in many states but rare for Utah, despite already having the personal injury suit for Vickie Warren, her heirs filed a wrongful death lawsuit in May 2012, within the wrongful death two-year statute Utah Code section 78B-3-106.
Defendant’s Georgia Pacific, LLP, and Union Carbide Corporation filed a motion to dismiss that was denied by the trial court. The defendants then appealed, urging that heirs should be barred from bringing a wrongful death suit when the decedent has already sued in an underlying personal injury action. The heirs countered that under the plain language of the Utah Code section 78B-3-106, a wrongful death action is an independent cause of action that accrues “for the benefit” of the heirs.
Described by the Utah Supreme Court as “a case of the first impression”, in affirming the trial court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Utah Supreme Court established that:
“Utah Code section 78B-3-106 states plainly that ‘when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs…may maintain an action for damages.’ The statutory language is clear and unambiguous and does not indicate that the cause of action is in any way tied to the decedent’s own personal injury action. We, therefore, conclude that wrongful death is an independent cause of action not barred by the existence of a final judgment in the decedent’s underlying personal injury suit….”
Senior Partner Gil Purcell, who was both the trial attorney for the personal injury case and argued the appeal before the Utah Supreme Court, stated “This decision is a terrific result affecting the lives of countless Utah citizens and families. It is amazing how sometimes we have to fight so hard just to establish what should be obvious – a model personal injury plaintiff like Vikki Warren was, who timely files her personal injury case, brings it to verdict, wins, and successfully defends her judgment on appeal, simply does not eliminate or somehow adversely affect the subsequent wrongful death rights and remedies belonging to her heirs.”