Wrongful Death Defined
Wrongful death is when a person dies due to a criminal act, negligence, or defective property. That means someone who acts with intention, such as the commission of a crime, or someone who makes a negligent mistake, such as distracted driving, could be guilty of wrongful death.
A wrongful death claim may be brought when a loved one is lost due to:
- 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 Claim Types
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 a surviving spouse is required to share a wrongful death recovery with a decedent’s minor child, the child’s share of 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 the 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.
What About the Second Type?
A survivor action is a type of claim that is brought by the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. Its purpose is to seek compensation for the damages and losses suffered by the decedent before their death. Here are some key points about survivor actions in Georgia:
- Filing the claim: The executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate is responsible for filing the survivor action. They act on behalf of the estate and the surviving family members to seek compensation for the decedent’s losses.
- Compensation sought: In a survivor action, the damages sought typically include medical expenses incurred by the decedent before their death. This may include hospital bills, medication costs, rehabilitation expenses, and any other relevant medical costs.
- Pain and suffering: Survivor actions in Georgia also seek compensation for the pain and suffering endured by the decedent as a result of the injuries caused by the accident or incident leading to their death. This is intended to account for the physical and emotional distress experienced by the decedent before passing away.
- Funeral expenses: Another element of compensation sought in a survivor action is reimbursement for the funeral and burial expenses incurred by the decedent’s estate. This may include costs related to the funeral service, casket or urn, burial plot, headstone, and other associated expenses.
It’s important to note that survivor actions are separate from wrongful death claims in Georgia. While wrongful death claims are brought by the surviving family members to seek compensation for their own losses resulting from the death of their loved one, survivor actions focus on the losses suffered by the decedent before their passing.
If you are dealing with a wrongful death situation in Georgia, it’s highly recommended to consult with our experienced attorneys who specialize in personal injury and wrongful death cases. They can provide guidance specific to your situation and help you navigate the legal process to pursue the appropriate claims for compensation.
How Wrongful Death Differs In Civil And Criminal Cases
It’s important to point out that a wrongful death civil lawsuit differs from criminal charges for your loved one’s death.
Some prospective clients may be concerned that they do not have grounds to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit if the defendant is facing criminal charges.
These are two separate causes of action and two entirely different court systems. With a civil case, your lawyer for a wrongful death lawsuit will be pursuing financial compensation on your family’s behalf.
A criminal case involves a potential loss of freedom, fines, restitution, and probation or parole.
The State of Georgia would be the initiating party for criminal charges rather than individual family members of the decedent.
Common Causes Of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Countless events, accidents, and incidents can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia.
Some of the most common ones include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including large trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians;
- Boating accidents;
- Slip and fall accidents at a business, theme park, and public or private property;
- Other premises liability accidents, including dog bites and swimming pool and trampoline accidents;
- Medical malpractice, including failure to diagnose, birth injuries, and delayed diagnosis;
- Dangerous or defective products;
- Crimes such as assault, domestic violence, robbery, and sexual assault;
- Work-related accidents; and
- Nursing home neglect and abuse.
These are some of the most common incidents that lead to a wrongful death lawsuit; however, they are not the only ones.
Benefits Of Working With A Wrongful Death Attorney
Hiring a wrongful death lawyer is a smart decision unless you have extensive experience with the Georgia legal system.
The law doesn’t require you to hire a lawyer, but you need a legal advocate on your side who understands the court system. Our legal team has years of litigation experience, and we know the importance of building the strongest case possible.
When you hire MG Law to represent you in a Georgia wrongful death action, we will:
- Open a thorough investigation,
- Contact and interview all involved parties and witnesses,
- Request all documentation and records,
- Handle all communication with the defendant’s insurance company and lawyers,
- Hire any necessary experts,
- Negotiate a potential settlement on behalf of your family, and
- Prepare your case for trial if necessary.
Your loved one just died. You shouldn’t have to fight with the insurance company on your own. Let our experienced team handle all the challenging legal tasks while you concentrate on your family.
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 As Soon As Possible
In all wrongful death cases, it is important to contact a wrongful death 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) 988-5252. 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.