Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc.Annotate this Case
In a wrongful death lawsuit involving Georgia law, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. In September 1992, Delia Bibbs was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a head injury that left her in a coma. A few months after the accident, she filed, through her husband, a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. The case was tried by a jury, but before it returned a verdict, Bibbs and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement, which guaranteed some recovery for Bibbs in the event of a verdict for Toyota, but limited Toyota’s exposure in the event of a verdict for Bibbs. The jury returned a verdict for Bibbs, awarding substantial damages, including more than $400,000 for past medical expenses, $6 million for future life care expenses, and $30 million for past and future pain and suffering. Within the next month, Toyota paid the amount required under the settlement agreement, and Bibbs executed a written release that incorporated the settlement agreement. Expressly excluded from the release was “any claim for Delia Bibbs’ wrongful death, inasmuch as Delia Bibbs has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].” Also in connection with the settlement, Bibbs dismissed her personal injury lawsuit with prejudice. More than 20 years later, Bibbs died, Together with her surviving children, Bibbs’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota, seeking damages for the full value of her life. The case was removed to federal district court, and Toyota filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Under Georgia law, the federal court asked whether the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action brought by survivors of a decedent limited by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a previous personal injury suit settling all claims that were or could have been asserted in that suit. If the answer was yes, what components of wrongful death damages were barred? The Georgia Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, and in response to the second question, explained that damages recovered or recoverable in an earlier personal injury lawsuit could not be recovered again in a wrongful death suit.