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.