When you lose a loved one unexpectedly due to the wrongdoing of another, you will experience so many emotions and be left struggling emotionally and likely financially. Whether the wrongful death was caused by a negligent driver, a workplace mishap, a dangerous location, or any other cause, the surviving loved ones of the deceased victim have legal rights. It is important to speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer about your potential claim to learn more about your options in a free consultation with an attorney. Our legal team has seen firsthand that nothing is more devastating than the unexpected death of a family member – and we stand ready to counsel, guide, and assist you through this devastating time in your life.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought over almost any circumstance where a defendant’s actions led to another person’s death. An unexpected death often creates multifaceted chaos in the lives of spouses, children, and/or other surviving family members. This chaos means you need sound legal advice about what to do. When consulting with potential attorneys, the survivors should know that death cases are not the same as personal injury cases. Wrongful death is controlled by specific Georgia statutes, and many important aspects of Georgia wrongful death law differ significantly from personal injury law.
Accidents That Can Cause a Wrongful Death
Many different types of accidents can cause or contribute to your loved one’s wrongful death, including but not limited to:
- Car accidents
- Nursing home accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Products liability
- Motorcycle accidents
- Animal attacks
- Bicycle accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
Georgia Wrongful Death Statute
Under the Georgia Wrongful Death Act, if a person is killed by the wrongful act of a person or entity, their family can bring a wrongful death claim for “the full value of the life of the decedent” under O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2. The “full value of the life” is calculated by assessing two components:
- Non-Economic: the intangible, which includes the departed’s relationships, family, and reasons for living, including putting a financial value on things like spending time with grandchildren, playing with their pet, traveling, and other things the victim enjoyed in life
- Economic: the tangible, which includes the money the deceased would have earned and the value of any household work they handled (such as lawn care), along with benefits – such as an employer’s contribution to a retirement plan – and investment income the victim would likely have earned
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
The law limits who can bring a wrongful death claim in Georgia. The only surviving family members entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit include the surviving spouse and the deceased’s child or children. When there is no one entitled to bring a wrongful death claim (no spouse or children), the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate may bring a death action and may recover and hold the compensation received for the benefit of the deceased’s next of kin.
In the case of a minor’s death, Georgia law allows their parents to bring a claim for the wrongful death of their minor (unmarried) child under O.C.G.A. § 19-7-1 (c)(2).
Types of Available Wrongful Death Damages
Georgia law instructs the judge and/or jury to award wrongful death compensation based on what the victim lost, not based on what the surviving family members lost. The wrongful death damages must be calculated from the perspective of the victim, not the victim’s family. Under Georgia law, there are three categories of damages survivors can claim in a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Full value of the life of the decedent (includes both economic damages and non-economic damages)
- Funeral, medical, and other necessary expenses resulting from the injury or death of the deceased person
- Medical expenses and the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased, and any other damages arising during the period between the injury and death (also known as a survival claim)
Any amount recovered is to be equally divided among the surviving spouse and the children per capita; however, the surviving spouse shall receive no less than one-third of the total recovery as their share. Any such recovery to which a minor child is entitled and which equals less than $15,000.00 shall be held by the natural guardian of the child to use for their benefit; any such recovery to which a minor child is entitled and which equals $15,000.00 or more shall be held by a guardian of the property of such child.
Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions
What is wrongful death?
“Wrongful death” is a legal phrase that describes an untimely and unnatural death caused by the negligence, unlawful act, or otherwise tortious conduct of another individual or entity. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim for monetary damages the surviving family members can file against the individual, business, and/or governmental entity responsible for causing or contributing to the deceased’s passing.
How long does a family have to bring a wrongful death claim in Georgia?
Generally, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of death to be brought within the legally mandated timeframe called the statute of limitations. However, this can be either extended or shortened in very specific circumstances. One such instance is when the wrongful death is caused by a crime (this can even refer to a traffic offense) – this tolls (or pauses) the statute of limitations from the date of the violation until a final disposition of the criminal charge or for six years, whichever is shorter. Once that time period elapses or the charges are resolved, the more typical two-year statute begins to run. If a government employee caused a wrongful death, the amount of time within which the family can legally bring a wrongful death case can vary depending upon which branch of government is involved –the statute of limitation can be as short as six months.
Does a wrongful death case require criminal charges to be filed?
No, wrongful death attorneys can file a civil wrongful death case regardless of whether criminal actions took place or criminal charges are filed. If there is a corresponding criminal case, the civil wrongful death case can be pursued before, during, or after the criminal case. The civil and criminal components related to wrongful death are different proceedings that operate completely independently of one another.
Are punitive damages recoverable in a Georgia wrongful death case?
Georgia courts have consistently held punitive damages cannot be awarded in connection with a wrongful death claim; however, punitive damages can be sought in a survival action. Therefore, if the individual who was wrongly killed survived for any period of time between the incident and their death, punitive damages may be obtained. These types of damages are only allowed where a defendant’s conduct was intentional, malicious, or showed disregard for the safety or wellbeing of the victim. This exception only applies where there is proof the decedent survived for at least a few seconds, which is what legally gives rise to a survival claim. If the death was immediate, then only wrongful death damages are available without a basis for punitive damages.
How much does it cost to bring a wrongful death case?
Attorney Chanel Payne does not charge any upfront costs or fees when handling wrongful death cases. The victim’s family will in fact owe no money at all unless and until the law firm recovers money for the family. In wrongful death cases, our firm pays all case expenses and is reimbursed at the end of the case out of the money we recover for your family. If – for some reason – we don’t recover any money, we don’t get paid back and we don’t charge you.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney for Help
When you are dealing with a wrongful death, it is likely the worst time in your life. An attorney who has handled wrongful death cases can counsel you about the accident that caused the death, the damages you’ve suffered, the legal remedies available, and how much compensation you can expect to recover. Our law firm can help you, so contact our office today for more information.