When someone is killed in an accident, the law allows their family or estate to file a Washington, D.C. wrongful death lawsuit against the individual who caused their death—such as a negligent driver in a car crash. If successful, these lawsuits can result in damages to cover medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and, importantly, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death. Sometimes, there are questions about what evidence can be introduced to prove pain and suffering in this case.
For example, take a recent state appellate case. The facts of the case are undeniably tragic: a couple was driving along the highway when the defendant, in a pickup truck, crossed the median and hit them. The couple, husband and wife, both died as a result of the collision. Their three-year-old daughter, who was also in the vehicle, survived.
The deceased wife’s mother filed suit against the defendant. At trial, the jury awarded her $3 million. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting irrelevant evidence at trial. At trial, the issue to be decided was the deceased wife’s conscious pain and suffering. The plaintiffs presented evidence that she was pregnant at the time of the collision. When the collision happened, she was on the telephone with her mother, telling her about the appointment confirming her pregnancy. The mother, the plaintiff in this case, then heard her daughter scream, “oh my god, look at that,” and then heard her scream her husband’s name, followed by the crash itself. The court held that evidence regarding her state of mind—including the fact that she was pregnant—had relevance to her fright, shock, and mental suffering before the collision.