Wrongful Death

Wrongful death can arise from a number of events, including a tractor-trailer wreck, a car wreck, inadequate security, or medical malpractice. In Georgia, there are two components to a wrongful death claim:  the statutory wrongful death claim for the value of the deceased’s life belonging to the family members who survive the deceased; and, the estate’s claim for the deceased’s pain and suffering, medical bills, and funeral expenses.

Who Brings the Wrongful Death Claim?

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 51-4-2, which is referred to as the “statutory” wrongful death claim, the surviving spouse brings the claim for the deceased’s life.  Under the law, the wrongful death claim is for the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.”  If there is no spouse, then the claim is brought by the children.  If there is a surviving spouse with children, then the surviving spouse brings the claim but shares any recovery with the children.

If there is no spouse or children, then the parents of the decease bring the claim pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 19-7-1.  If there is no spouse, child, or parent, O.C.G.A. Section 51-4-5 provides for the appointment of a personal representative based on who is the “next of kin” to the deceased.

What is the Value of Life?

Valuing the life of a person is a difficult task; most of us would probably say that human life is invaluable.  However, the only way that a family can be compensated for the death of a loved one when caused by another party’s negligence is a monetary award.  When bringing a claim for the deceased’s life, evidence of his or her occupation, earning potential, quality of life, relationship with friends and family, and contribution to the community are all factors that can be used to show the value of someone’s life.  Such evidence can be introduced through testimony by friends and family, an economist’s testimony on the deceased’s earning potential, photographs, videos, and the deceased’s life story.  A jury of twelve ultimately decides the value of the deceased’s life based on the evidence presented.

What is the Estate’s Claim?

The second part of a wrongful death claim is what is known as the “survivor action.”  This action belongs to the deceased person’s estate; the estate is simply the deceased person’s assets, including his or her legal right to bring a wrongful death claim.  The estate’s claim consists of claims for pain & suffering, medical expenses, and funeral expenses.

The pain & suffering aspect of the estate’s claim refers to the conscious pain and suffering that the deceased experienced before death; and, punitive damages can be awarded on the survival action.

Like all personal injury claims in Georgia, there is a two-year statute of limitations for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. Although the statute provides two years for filing the suit, it is advisable that family members retain an attorney to assist with the claim sooner rather than later in order to preserve evidence and insurance availability, and ensure that the claim is brought against the proper entities.

If you have any questions about wrongful death claims in Georgia, we provide a consultation with an attorney.  Please call (404) 647-0722 to schedule an in-person meeting.

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