A wrongful death claim may be brought when a loved one is lost due to the negligent, reckless, intentional or criminal actions of another person, business or government entity. The decedent’s surviving family members and/or estate may then bring a claim for damages against the entity that caused the death. While money cannot ease the suffering of such a loss, a monetary award is the only way that civil law can recognize the value of the deceased person’s life, compensate the survivors for their loss and penalize the person or entity at fault.
Wrongful Death Claims in Georgia
Negligent death cases in Georgia fall under two different types of claims. The first is a traditional wrongful death claim, which is brought by the decedent’s survivors (children, parents or other lawful heirs) and seeks the “full value of the life” of the decedent, from the perspective of the decedent. This encompasses economic damages, including the projected income of the decedent over their lifetime, and intangibles, such as the decedent’s enjoyment of their life. These factors are determined by a jury. Georgia has no specific formula for calculating these factors, though the grief of the decedent’s survivors is not considered.
A surviving spouse has the right to sue for wrongful death in Georgia, though the spouse must share the recovery equally with surviving children. In circumstances where surviving spouse is required to share a wrongful death recovery with a decedent’s minor child, the child’s share up to $15,000 may be held by the child’s natural guardian without posting a bond.
If a minor child’s share of the recovery is $15,000 or more, a guardian of the child’s property must be qualified in probate court, and a bond must be posted. The bond requirement may be avoided if the probate court approves a structured settlement, with annuity payments going to the child after they reach age 18, with the cash held by the child’s natural guardian remaining less than $15,000.
If there is no surviving spouse, the right to sue passes to any surviving children. If the surviving spouse cannot be reached, the court may permit the children to pursue the death claim alone. If neither a spouse nor a child is surviving, then the decedent’s parents may sue. If the parents of a deceased child are divorced or living apart, the court has discretion to allocate the wrongful death recovery between them. In the absence of any surviving spouse, child or parent, the administrator of the decedent’s estate may sue on behalf of the next of kin.
The second type of Georgia wrongful death claim, referred to as a “survivor action,” is brought by the decedent’s estate. This type of claim is filed by the executor or administer of the estate, and seeks compensation for medical expenses prior to death, the pain and suffering of the decedent and funeral expenses.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Georgia
Due to Georgia’s statute of limitations, it is important to act quickly in wrongful death cases. Wrongful death or estate claims in Georgia must generally be filed no later than two years after the death. If the claim isn’t filed within the time limit, the right to bring the claim is nearly always lost. However, the two-year statute tolls (stops running) in certain situations. Specifically, if there is a criminal case being litigated which concerns the same events as the wrongful death case, the clock the wrongful death case is halted until the criminal case is concluded. The two-year statute of limitations for the wrongful death claim will start again on the date the criminal case ends.
This can become complicated in situations where the decedent survived an initial accident, and then passed away later due to their injuries. In these cases, the statute of limitations is usually calculated from the date of the act which ultimately caused the death of the decedent.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
In all wrongful death cases, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. The attorney will need to quickly gather evidence, as the party at fault will undoubtedly be building their defense in an attempt to lessen their responsibility for the death. If you suspect a loved one has passed due to another’s carelessness, don’t hesitate to contact our office at 770-483-6557. One of our experienced attorneys will skillfully and sensitively guide you through the process, and make sure that you are properly compensated for your loss.