Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
When you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct, the sting of grief is made even worse by the sense of injustice. Most wrongful death cases are also unexpected and sudden, so the financial impact and disruption to families can be profound. As you process the next steps, you may be wondering who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia and if a lawsuit is the right choice for you.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be one way to seek justice for your loved one’s loss and help fill some of the gaps left behind by medical bills, funeral expenses, and lost wages. Here’s what you need to know as you determine whether this is the right course of action in your case.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a specific type of personal injury claim. The term “wrongful death” is actually applicable to a broad range of situations. Put simply, a death may be deemed “wrongful” if someone else can be found to be at fault for the death. This fault can be through direct and intentional action or through negligence. Even accidental deaths can be deemed wrongful.
The most common wrongful death suits involve the following situations:
- Vehicular Accidents: When someone is found to be at fault for a car accident that results in a death, they can be found responsible in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Medical Malpractice: We trust doctors and other medical professionals to provide us with care during our most vulnerable moments, but when they make a mistake, it can be deadly.
- Criminal Acts: The most obvious criminal act that could be deemed a wrongful death is murder. However, if someone has committed any crime resulting in someone’s death (regardless of their intended action), it could be the start of a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Faulty or Defective Products: Accidents involving faulty or defective products can lead to deaths, and those responsible for manufacturing the products can be held accountable through wrongful death lawsuits.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In Georgia, the general statute of limitations on a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of death. In some extenuating circumstances (such as when the government is named as the defendant in the lawsuit or when there are other criminal charges pending because of the incident), the limitations may be shorter or longer. Generally speaking, it’s best to explore your options as soon as possible with the assistance of a skilled Georgia wrongful death lawyer to make sure you file your case on time and, most importantly, to make the discovery process (where evidence is gathered) most effective.
How Is a Wrongful Death Claim Calculated?
You cannot possibly put a price on the true value of someone’s life. The loss of a loved one is an intangible one, and the law is not designed to replace or make up for that loss. Instead, a wrongful death suit is designed to provide some measure of comfort and help cushion the financial blow of such a death.
In a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, the family can recover for the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.”
The “Full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence” means the full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived.” O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1. Additionally, the “full value of the life” is measured from the point of view of the person who died. Brock v. Wedincamp, 253 Ga. App. 275, 281-82 (2002). What this means is that if a mother passes away, the measure of damages is not a son’s loss from not having his mother anymore, but the mother’s loss from not being able to raise her son.
There are two separate types of damages under the theory of “full value of the life” The first and easier part to calculate is the tangible value of the decedent’s life and includes the money that the decedent would have earned throughout their life and the value of things they handled around the house for the family.
The second type of damages is for the intangible value of the decedent’s life, which includes the decedent’s relationships, family, and reasons for living. This is obviously much more difficult to evaluate, which is why is important for a Georgia wrongful death lawyer to get to know the person who passed away and to be able to tell that person’s story in a meaningful and compelling way.
What is an Estate Claim?
A wrongful death case can also have a separate component called an Estate Claim. This allows the family to pursue a claim for medical bills, funeral expenses, and the pain and suffering of the decedent, as well as potential punitive damages against the at-fault party. As the name implies, the claim is brought by the decedent’s estate and will include the following considerations:
- Medical Expenses: If the deceased accrued medical expenses stemming from the incident that led to death, those costs could be compensated through the lawsuit.
- Funeral Expenses: End-of-life services can be quite expensive, especially if the death was unexpected and without prior planning. Those expenses are also eligible for inclusion in the lawsuit.
- Pain and Suffering: Juries are given the option to award damages to account for a victim’s pain and suffering leading up to death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
Under O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2, the family of the person who passed away may bring a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. If the deceased has a surviving spouse, that person is the only one who can file the claim. If the deceased has children and a surviving spouse, the spouse must act as a representative for the children in bringing the claim forward.
If there is no surviving spouse, the deceased’s children are eligible to file the lawsuit. If the deceased was predeceased by a child, any heirs from that child are eligible to bring the lawsuit forward.
If there is no surviving spouse and no children, then a wrongful death suit can be filed by the parents or guardians of the deceased. This is most common when the deceased was a child at the time of death.
Is Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit the Best Next Step?
Dealing with a tragic loss can be overwhelming and confusing, and adding a complicated lawsuit can be a daunting task. However, a wrongful death lawsuit offers grieving family members the chance to seek justice and receive compensation for the many losses associated with their loved one’s death.
How Can a Georgia Wrongful Death Attorney Help?
If you’re considering a wrongful death lawsuit, you don’t have to do it alone. The help of an experienced and compassionate Georgia wrongful death attorney can make the process easier and more manageable. Reach out today to talk to someone about your case and find out if filing a wrongful death lawsuit is the best next step.