Atlanta, Georgia Wrongful Death Attorneys
Recovering in an Action for Wrongful Death in Georgia
The term “wrongful death” is a specific type of personal injury tort claim, and refers to an action in which a plaintiff seeks to recover damages for the death of another that was caused by wrongful means, whether caused by an intentional, reckless, or negligent act of another. A wrongful death claim is not dependent upon the means by which the decedent died; however, typical wrongful death claims frequently arise in situations where there is a death resulting from:
- Medical malpractice, including surgical and prescription errors;
- Automobile or other vehicle accidents;
- Industrial accidents or product defect accidents;
- Criminal conduct such as murder, abuse, or criminal neglect.
Wrongful death actions may only be brought by specific individuals who have a special relationship to the decedent, as defined by statute. Prior to the development of the wrongful death cause of action, wrongdoers who committed acts that resulted in injury could be held legally responsible for the injuries they caused, but wrongdoers whose actions resulted in someone’s death were free from liability. A wrongful death lawsuit, therefore, is a way for wrongdoers to be held legally accountable for their tortious acts. Through the wrongful death claim, the law recognizes that, while the person harmed may not be able to recover, certain individuals who are closely related to the deceased party are also injured by the wrongful act.
Generally speaking, a plaintiff or plaintiffs in a wrongful death action must demonstrate the existence of four necessary elements:
- First, the decedent’s death was caused, substantially, by the defendant;
- Second, the death was caused by conduct that was either negligent, reckless, or intentional, or under circumstances in which the defendant would be held strictly liable for the death under the law (typically, strict liability applies where a special relationship exists between the defendant and the decedent such that the defendant is necessarily understood to be legally responsible);
- Third, the plaintiff has a special relationship to the decedent that entitles him or her, by the terms of the applicable statute, to sue for recovery; and
- Fourth, the wrongful death caused monetary damages.
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Statutes: Who May Make a Wrongful Death Claim?
Georgia’s wrongful death statutes may be found beginning at Section 51-4-1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.). As stated above, because the wrongful death claim is not dependent upon the specific cause of the death (so long as it was caused by another who would otherwise be criminally or civilly liable), these statutes refer primarily to who may recover, and what types of damages may be recovered.
If the decedent was married at the time of the accident, the wrongful death claim belongs to the surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, then the claim vests in any living children. It is important to note that these claims do not necessarily vest concurrently. If the spouse refuses to file suit, then the children have no ability under Georgia law to sue for wrongful death solely on their own behalf. However, if the spouse sues and there are surviving children, then he or she is understood to be suing not only on behalf of him- or herself, but also on behalf of the children, even if any children would choose not to sue on their own behalf. In such cases, any recovery will be apportioned to both the spouse and children according to rules set out in O.C.G.A. 51-4-2, which provides, among other provisions, that in no case will a spouse receive less than one-third of the recovery, regardless of the number of children.
Georgia also has specific statutes that spell out the rules that apply to illegitimate children and common law spouses. Finally, if there are neither spouse nor children of the deceased, the right to sue falls to the decedent’s surviving parents and, if there are no parents, then to the decedent’s estate.
What Damages May be Available in a Wrongful Death Action in Georgia?
O.C.G.A. 51-4-1 defines recoverable damages as 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.” Georgia cases have understood this phrase to mean primarily the lost income of the decedent for his or her expected lifetime, accounting for such items as the decedent’s educational level and level of income at the time of his death, anticipated potential pay raises, general earning potential, industry potential, inflation, and so on. This is usually the largest item of damages recoverable by the spouse and/or children of the decedent. In cases involving the death of children, these numbers are naturally more difficult to calculate, but juries are entitled to take into account the family’s circumstances in order to calculate likely future income and earning potential.
Wrongful death claimants may also recover out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical bills and funeral and burial costs, as well as loss of companionship and protection. However, under Georgia law, claimants are not entitled to other damages common in tort, such as pain and suffering, because it is the decedent, not the claimant, who experienced the pain and suffering. However, the estate of the deceased may be able to recover pain and suffering damages in the place of the decedent, as well as many of the damages recoverable by a spouse or children. Punitive damages, however, are not recoverable in a Georgia wrongful death case by any claimant.
If You Believe You May Have a Wrongful Death Claim, Contact the Atlanta Wrongful Death Attorneys at Sammons & Carpenter for a Free Consultation
Monetary damages can never adequately compensate the close relations of those who have lost a loved one. However, when a spouse, parent, or child has died as the result of a wrongful act, damages recovered in a wrongful death action help to alleviate some of the adverse economic consequences that are often brought about by the death. These damages can offset the burdens that frequently attend a loss, such as medical bills, funeral costs, the costs of caring for and educating children, maintaining a home, planning for retirement, and so on.
If you have recently lost a husband, child, or parent, we know it is difficult to face these mundane and practical realities in the midst of your grief and suffering. However, it is important to bear in mind that your own or your children’s future well-being may vitally depend upon obtaining damages to which you may be entitled in a wrongful death lawsuit. Through the filing of a wrongful death suit, we can help you to address these additional worries about the future that your loss has created.
The Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at Sammons & Carpenter can help you understand the various provisions of Georgia law related to wrongful death claims, and help you to calculate what you may be legally entitled to. We have experience bringing wrongful death actions in the state of Georgia, and we can explain in detail what may be at stake in your particular circumstances.
If you would like a free consultation to find out how we may be able to help you, contact us today, by telephoning us directly at 404-814-8949, or by using our confidential online case evaluation form here on this site. Your inquiry will receive prompt attention, and your consultation is completely free. Even if we conclude that you have a viable case and offer to represent you, there is no obligation on your part to retain our firm. And, if we do agree to represent you, you will pay no legal fees until we obtain recovery on your behalf. If you need help figuring out what step to take next, give us a call.
Copyright © 2012 by Sammons & Carpenter, P.C. All Rights Reserved