$28 Million Gwinnett County Jury Verdict in Wrongful Death from a Head-on Car Accident Collision

Mark and Emily - Exhibit 101

No amount of money can ever make up for the loss of a loved one.  But having a jury acknowledge the value of a loved one’s life can be vindicating.

This case arose from a head-on collision about two weeks before Christmas in 2021.  Mark Cohen was on his way home from visiting with his family on December 11, 2021.  Mary Angela Bell suddenly swerved across the centerline and collided into Mr. Cohen’s minivan.  The collision killed Mr. Cohen.

On April 17, 2024, a Gwinnett County jury delivered a verdict of $28,000,000.

The Wrongful Death Case

Typically, in a car accident case, the plaintiff’s job is to prove that the defendant was at-fault (i.e., the defendant was negligent) and that the defendant’s negligence caused damages.  This case was unlike many other cases because the defendant admitted that her negligence caused the collision.  Since the defendant admitted that her negligence caused the collision, the focus of our case was on damages.

The damages in a wrongful death case are the “full value of the life” of the person who was killed from the point of view of the person who died.  The “full value of the life” has two parts: (1) the tangible, which includes the money that the decedent would have earned and the value of any household jobs that the decedent handled; and (2) the intangible, which includes the decedent’s relationships, family, and reasons for living.

To prove the tangible – or “economic damages” – we worked with an expert economist to calculate the economic value of Mr. Cohen’s lost earnings and benefits, as well as the value of the services he would have provided to his household.

Proving the intangible – or “general damages” – is usually much more difficult.  In awarding damages for wrongful death, the jury is asked to consider the value of the decedent’s life to himself or herself.  Learning about who the person was and what made the person’s life special to him or her is what leads to an amount. Photographs, videos, and stories help tell the story.  For Mark, proving general damages was uncharacteristically easy given what an amazing person he was and what a full life he lived.

Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen was an all-around amazing human being. He was a loving father. A devoted son. A mentor to other kids. A great neighbor. A “calming presence” as described by many of his friends. Mark was known to mow his neighbors’ yards when they were out-of-town or not feeling well enough to do it. No one ever asked him to do it. He just did it. Most significantly, Mark raised two exceptional children who will continue his legacy of being amazing humans.

Mark and Emily - Exhibit 101

Mark, Jake and Jan at the Boy Scouts - Exhibit 109

 

 

To prove how important Mark’s life was to himself, we spoke with family members, neighbors, people who knew Mark from church and boy scouts, and people who worked with Mark.  In total, we called thirteen witnesses, who testified about Mark’s kindness, generosity, and devotion to his family.  Remarkably, all but one of those witnesses attended trial to offer live testimony.

Pain and Suffering

In addition to the “full value” of Mark Cohen’s life, the trial included claims for pain and suffering.  In Georgia, a plaintiff is entitled to recover for pain and suffering both before and after a collision.  An eyewitness to the collision testified that she had heard Mark Cohen blowing his horn for several seconds before the collision.  She testified that, after the collision, she parked and ran over to Mark’s van to check on him.  While his eyes were closed, she saw his chest moving up and down as he took his last breaths.

We asked the jury to award part of its verdict for pre-collision fright, shock, and terror.  However, we did not ask for any compensation for post-collision pain and suffering because the evidence at trial suggested that Mark had been unconscious when the first witness reached him.

Jury Verdict

In closing argument, we worked hard to address the ‘defenses’ that we thought the defendant would raise.  Because the defense presented no evidence at trial, we gave our closing argument first and the defense went second.  In our part of the closing, we addressed the anticipated defense arguments that:

  1. the defendant had already faced responsibility because of her criminal sentence
  2. a big verdict was unreasonable because defendant was not wealthy
  3. our decedent was so nice that he would not have wanted a big verdict against someone who just made a mistake
  4. an argument based on the Boy Scout oath
  5. quibbling with the plaintiff’s animation of the collision
  6. weakness in our pain and suffering evidence
  7. a dispute with our economist’s calculations as to benefits

The defense made exactly those arguments.  The jury did not find them persuasive.

We spent the remaining time in closing arguments going over the abundant evidence showing that Mark had lived a remarkable live that he loved.  The defense asked the jury to give a verdict of $3 million.  They argued that such an award would include all of the money that Mark would have earned and then some.  The jury returned a verdict of $26,500,000 for the full value of Mark’s life and $1,500,000 for pre-impact fright, shock, and terror, for a total verdict of $28,000,000.

Picture of Jeb Butler
Jeb Butler’s career as a Georgia trial lawyer has led to a $150 million verdict in a product liability case against Chrysler for a dangerous vehicle design that caused the death of a child, a $45 million settlement for a young man who permanently lost the ability to walk and talk, and numerous other verdicts and settlements, many of which are confidential at the defendant’s insistence. Jeb has worked on several cases that led to systemic changes and improvements in public safety. He has been repeatedly recognized as a Georgia SuperLawyer and ranks among Georgia’s legal elite. Jeb graduated in the top 10% of his class at UGA Law, argued on the National Moot Court team, and published in the Law Review. He is the founding partner of Butler Kahn law firm. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Get a Free Consultation

Free Consultation

"*" indicates required fields

Agree To Terms*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

SEARCH