Minors’ Involvement Affords Insight into Settlement Numbers for Fatality at Geothermal Plant

Settlement numbers in wrongful death cases are not often discernible given the confidentiality of most agreements, but where minors are involved, numbers generally are placed into the public record because of the court’s required settlement approval process.  Such was the case yesterday in a California wrongful death case arising from a workplace fatality when a worker fell into an exposed pipe at a geothermal facility.

Survived by his wife and three children who brought suit against the facility owner, the worker’s employer, and others, the parties ultimately agreed to settle the case for $6 million, to be split between the surviving spouse (50%) and the surviving minors (50% split three-ways), with plaintiffs’ counsel to receive 1/3 of the gross amount going to the minors.  The court approved a settlement that placed $664,366.22 for each child into a deferred annuity that will pay out more than $1 million to each child over time.  As an example of how those payments are structured, take one of the minors, who will receive $50,000 lump sum at age 18, 12 semi-annual payments of $30,000 from age 19 to 25, a $600,000 lump sum payment at age 25, and a $560,000 lump sum payment at age 30.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California explained that the plaintiffs had a “greater-than-even chance of victory” but “balanced against the risk inherent to all litigation and this litigation in particular, the settlement amount is reasonable.”  The court also noted that the settlement amounts were considerably less than many other wrongful death cases involving the loss of a parent of which the court had researched.

The case is No. 16-cv-1892 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

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