The Fifth District Court of Appeal reached an interesting conclusion in Case No. 5D16-2794 in a Florida wrongful death case involving a corporate pizza chain, its franchisee, and a widow who was not married to the decedent at the time of the accident. The decedent was first injured in a serious car accident after he swerved into the median to avoid another car that pulled in front of him. This move caused his car to drift back over into his lane and flip a couple of times. The driver became a quadriplegic as a result. The other car was driven by a pizza deliveryman. A month after the accident, the injured person filed suit against the driver, the owner of the pizza shop, and the pizza corporation, claiming the driver was negligent and the franchisee and corporation were vicariously liable for the deliveryman’s negligence.
Within a year of the accident, the injured person married his girlfriend, who was a passenger at the time of the accident. Soon after that, he died, and his wife became the personal representative of his estate. She continued with the original action and included a claim for wrongful death damages as the injured person’s surviving spouse. The franchisee settled its part of the claim with the deceased’s spouse for $1 million. The pizza corporation filed many motions for summary judgment that argued the widow was not a surviving spouse under the Wrongful Death Act because she was not married to the decedent at the time of the injury, that it was not vicariously liable because it did not exercise control over the franchisee’s day-to-day operations, and that all but one claim for medical and hospital expenses were barred because no claims had been filed in the probate proceeding. All of the motions but the medical expenses were denied, limiting the surviving spouse to only recover $1,165.67 for the expenses claimed.
At trial, the jury found against the pizza company, finding the franchisee was an agent of the corporation, the driver’s negligence was 90% of the cause of the deceased’s injury and eventual death, and the total expenses for the home renovations necessary to accommodate the deceased’s injuries were over $100,000. The jury also awarded the widow $10 million for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering as a result of her husband’s death. The company sought a directed verdict and a new trial, arguing the closing argument was improper.