The loss of a family member is an excruciating experience for anyone to endure. When the death is caused by wrongful means, the damage such a tragedy causes can be truly devastating. Along with the emotional and mental anguish the sudden loss of a loved one can cause, it can also place a severe financial burden on surviving family members due to the loss of income and support that their loved one can no longer provide.
A compassionate Atlanta wrongful death lawyer at Atlanta Personal Injury Law Group can work to ensure you and your family receive adequate compensation for the losses you have suffered and that the at-fault parties are held accountable. With the guidance and support of a dedicated personal injury attorney on your side, you can focus on being with those you love at a time when familial closeness means the most.
Hazards in Atlanta that Might Lead to Wrongful Death Claims
In larger cities, more accidents and injuries occur because of the high volume of people, vehicles, and day-to-day activity. In Atlanta, one recent year saw 193 fatal occupational injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a 51 percent increase in bicycle collisions in a recent 10-year span. Also, with over three million car owners, Atlanta has seen increased motor vehicle accidents in recent years.
Additionally, Atlanta has been reportedly above the national crime median since the middle of the 20th century. More than 1,200 violent crimes took place in Atlanta in one recent year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these dangers in perspective:
- The costs for auto accidents and wrongful death claims in Georgia totaled around $1.5 billion in just one year
- $41 million is lost every year throughout the United States for wrongful death and personal injury claims
- Georgia ranked among the top states in the country for the highest total costs and damages from medical expenses and lost wages in preventable accidents.
- Accidental deaths are the fifth-highest cause of death in the United States.
- Over 120,000 accident-caused deaths occur in Georgia every year.
- 26,000 deaths from falls occur every year in the United States
- 33,000 deaths from auto accidents occur every year in the United States.
Georgia Wrongful Death Laws
Wrongful death refers to an unnatural or premature death resulting from someone else's negligent or unlawful acts. When this happens, family members can bring wrongful death claims under the Georgia Wrongful Death Act. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help surviving family members determine who may bring insurance company claims or lawsuits to recover monetary damages under state laws.
Examples of wrongful death can include:
- Negligence-based incidents like car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Defective or faulty products (product liability)
- Intentional criminal acts resulting in the victim's death
Under the Georgia Wrongful Death Act, surviving spouses or offspring of the deceased person can bring wrongful death lawsuits. In cases of the wrongful death of a child, the child's parents may have the right to recover when there is no living spouse or child of the decedent. In some cases, the personal representative of the deceased may seek wrongful death damages, but any amount recovered must be held for the decedent's next of kin.
Wrongful Death vs. Criminal Homicide
In wrongful death cases, the defendant's liability is expressed in financial compensation (or damages) that the court orders them to pay to the deceased's survivors. This is different than a criminal homicide case which can result in jail or prison time, state fines, and probation for the defendant.
In criminal cases, the government must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to prove the defendant was responsible for a person's death. In civil cases, the burden of proof is lower, and only a preponderance of the evidence (51 percent or more likely) is needed. You may be able to bring a wrongful death claim while the defendant is also facing criminal charges for the same death.
How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
To prove a case in Georgia, the wrongful death law states you must show the following:
- A duty of care existed at the time of the incident
- The defendant breached that duty of care
- The breached duty caused the death, and
- The decedent and surviving family members incurred damages as a result
Let's look at each element in more detail.
Duty of Care
Various Georgia laws establish a duty of care requirement between people and other entities. If someone breaches this duty, they may be considered negligent. “Exercising due care” is typically defined as refraining from causing another person harm. In wrongful death situations, the defendant has an obligation to keep the deceased safe and secure from harm.
For instance, a wrongful death could be caused by a car accident. Under most circumstances, all drivers have a legal duty to drive carefully and not harm other motorists or people in the area.
Breach of Duty of Care
Once you prove that the defendant had a duty to the deceased, you must prove a breach of that duty. Using the same example as before, evidence that the defendant was driving recklessly, such as failing to stop at a red light or speeding, and that reckless driving caused harm, shows the at-fault driver breached their duty of care.
The next legal element is proving that the negligent actions caused the deceased's death. Since every case is different, this is when your Atlanta wrongful death attorney must present the best evidence to convince a jury. It takes extremely detailed and exact evidence to hold someone responsible in wrongful death cases.
The last step in proving wrongful death is showing that the deceased suffered damages; otherwise, a jury will not see a reason to reward the victim's family with a financial settlement. After proving that a breach of legal duty caused the wrongful death, your wrongful death attorney needs to prove tangible damages.
Medical bills, funeral expenses, and other financial losses are considered tangible losses, also known as economic damages. If the deceased person financially supported a family, the court can also consider the value of their life and the pain and suffering experienced as a result of the loved one's wrongful death. These non-tangible losses are known as non-economic damages.
Georgia’s Negligence Laws
Negligence is the most common legal basis for wrongful death cases and many other personal injury cases. It is a failure to take a certain reasonable degree of care to minimize the chance that you injure others. For example, when a building owner fails to fix a broken staircase or an unstable walkway, they may face liability if someone falls on their property and sustains an injury as a result of their negligence.
Negligence is a kind of tort under Georgia law, which is the unlawful violation of a private legal right. A negligence tort arises when a person fails to exercise their duty of care and injures another person or, in wrongful death claims, kills them.
In some cases, the responsible party acts with gross negligence or a wilful disregard for other people's safety. In those cases, the decedent's estate may seek punitive damages for the completely reckless actions or criminal behavior on the part of the at-fault party.
Determining Liability in a Wrongful Death Case
Proving liability in a wrongful death suit involves establishing that negligence was the contributing factor to the death. To help build a strong case, an experienced wrongful death attorney might want to obtain:
- Photos of the accident scene
- The accident report filled out by the police/insurance companies
- Medical reports and documentation
- Remnants of defective equipment involved in the accident
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Georgia
Wrongful death actions are subject to a statute of limitations. In Georgia, this deadline is set at two years from the time of death. This time constraint can be affected by separate rules, such as personal injury and medical malpractice cases, but two years is generally the time limit for most wrongful death cases.
If you do not file a claim within this two-year time limit, you lose the right to bring it forth, with few exceptions. For instance, the clock effectively stops in some cases and may allow for longer statute times than two years.
While you have two years to file the case, you will want to act as soon as possible in the following circumstances.
Truck Accident Cases
Federal law requires interstate motorist carriers to maintain records of their operations for at least six months. They may destroy any older records. If they don't preserve these documents, you cannot easily prove Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration violations.
If a loved one dies due to a negligent trucker, hire a lawyer immediately to prevent the trucking company from destroying crash records. If you wait longer than the time it takes the company to go through its routine record purge, vital evidence may be lost. In trucking accidents, you should act as soon as possible so you can obtain their operation records in time.
Statute of Limitations for Claims Against State or Local Government
Those filing claims against the state government must present a pre-suit notice of claim in writing under the State Tort Claims Act. You must send notice to each state agency involved and the Risk Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services within 12 months of the death. The suit can also not be filed less than 90 days after presenting the pre-suit notice of claim.
For the county government, a pre-suit notice of claim must be submitted to the county commission within 12 months of the wrongful death before actually filing the suit. You must send a municipal government the claim within six months of the death, and you must wait at least 30 days before you can file a suit.
Statute of Limitations for Common Disasters
You must file a suit within 12 months of death to maintain priority case position when there will likely be many others filing claims for the same reason. Failure to do so may result in inadequate funds to compensate all parties affected.
Life Insurance Contracts
The statute of limitations for insurance policy claims is generally about six years. However, many insurance policies will include a suit limitation clause that can reduce your time to file to as little as one year. One of the seasoned personal injury lawyers at Atlanta Personal Injury Law Group can review your insurance policy closely to go over its details and determine if a contractual suit limitation is in place, and if you must act quickly.
If the Death Is a Result of a Crime
If a wrongful death case also involves a criminal case, the statute of limitations for the wrongful death claim pauses until the criminal case concludes. This can last up to six years. After the case ends, or if six years of an ongoing criminal case have passed, the two-year statute of limitations deadline begins to run.
Scope of Recovery for a Wrongful Death Claim
Recovery of damages resulting from a loved one's death is divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Recoverable damages for the economic value of life may consist of the decedent's current wages and future lost income possibly including retirement benefits.
Damages for the non-economic value of life may include compensation for emotional distress such as pain and suffering and, in cases of the wrongful death of a spouse, loss of consortium.
Other compensation may include:
- Medical expenses related to the deceased’s illness or injury after the accident
- Funeral expenses and burial costs
- Lost counsel, companionship, or advice
What Is the Average Settlement for a Wrongful Death Suit in Atlanta?
Every wrongful death case is different, so settlement amounts will vary. You should not expect to recover the same amount as another wrongful death suit. Various factors will affect the amount you recover.
Factors that can affect the settlement include:
- The victim’s age: The younger a victim, the greater their potential earning capacity loss, and the more the family suffers.
- Earnings, education, and training: All contribute to how much the deceased might have collected had they not died, which includes future employment, promotion, and so on.
- Economic damages: In some cases, the decedent may have lived for days, weeks, or months with their injuries before dying, incurring extensive medical bills. Surviving family members may seek compensation for these medical expenses and other related costs to help pay them off. Additionally, when a spouse dies and leaves their partner with children, the loss of the partner affects their financial situation.
The above factors can have a substantial impact on your case, but so can the available insurance. If a defendant does not have insurance, you may face huge barriers to recovering a settlement.
The best way to determine how much your case is worth is to schedule a free case evaluation with a wrongful death lawyer at the Atlanta Personal Injury Law Group. Our attorneys can review similar cases and consider the relevant evidence to provide you with an estimate.
Reach Out for a Free Consultation With Our Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyers as Soon as Possible
While the life of a family member is truly invaluable, their untimely and unexpected death can cause immense hardship to those they have left behind. In addition to the emotional trauma of such a sudden loss, the financial struggle a family may face without the support of their loved one can be overwhelming.
If your family member died due to another person's negligent or unlawful acts, the only way you may receive sufficient compensation for your losses is by taking legal action. One of our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers could bring an insurance company claim or file a lawsuit to give you and your family the best chance of recovering from your loss.