To recover damages and hold a negligent party legally responsible, you must have evidence to show what happened, how it happened, and how it caused your loved one’s death. A strong case documenting the negligent act is needed to prove wrongful death in Georgia.
An Atlanta wrongful death lawyer can help you by building a case and holding the at-fault party legally responsible for their actions that led to your loved one’s death. An experienced attorney understands how wrongful death cases work and what proof is needed to recover the compensation you need and deserve. Most personal injury law firms provide free consultations, so you can learn more about your legal options and their services.
Understanding Georgia Wrongful Death Laws
According to Georgia law, surviving family members may be able to pursue a negligence case against the liable party when the victim passes away and cannot pursue a personal injury case on their own.
The law also determines who can take this legal action, identifying qualifying family members in this order:
- A surviving spouse and/or any minor children
- Adult children (if there is no spouse)
- Surviving parents
- Siblings (if there are no other surviving family members)
- A representative of the estate (if there are no other surviving family members)
When the appropriate party steps forward, they generally work with a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with wrongful death cases in Fulton County or the appropriate jurisdiction. An attorney can help determine the necessary steps and guide them through the process, which usually involves filing an insurance claim and negotiating a settlement. Sometimes, a lawsuit and trial are necessary to secure fair compensation.
Recoverable Damages in a Georgia Wrongful Death Case
The recoverable damages in a Georgia wrongful death case could allow the family to recover a wide range of expenses, losses, and intangible damages experienced because of their loved one’s injuries and death.
The value of the case depends on its unique circumstances, but some of the recoverable damages could include:
- Related medical bills and care costs
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the decedent’s income and benefits
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of services previously managed by the decedent
- The family’s intangible losses
- Other economic and noneconomic benefits documented by your attorney
If you pursue wrongful death compensation in Atlanta, an attorney can help you understand the fair settlement value of your claim. Following an investigation into what happened, who is legally responsible, and what damages occurred, your legal team will assign a possible settlement range to the case.
This process makes it possible for you to know when there is a fair settlement offer or when you need to continue negotiations or take another approach to recover compensation in the case. Your attorney will guide you through this process, including offering advice and recommendations along the way. Ultimately, it is up to you if you settle, but they can provide the information you need to decide.
Building a Case to Collect Wrongful Death Damages in Georgia
The proof of negligence and liability in a wrongful death case is very similar to the proof required in a personal injury case. The plaintiff needs to show that the accused party was careless or reckless, caused the incident, and injuries occurred. Instead of simply documenting the injuries, they need to tie their loved one’s death to the incident in question. This is often possible using medical records, the death certificate, and other evidence.
Almost any type of personal injury case also supports a wrongful death action. If your loved one died because of someone else’s negligence, you may be able to pursue wrongful death damages.
This includes incidents such as:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Truck collisions
- Bicycle and pedestrian crashes
- Motorcycle accidents
- Slips and falls
- Dog bites
- Drownings and pool accidents
- Other premises liability incidents
- Other personal injury cases
To show that an accused party is legally responsible for a wrongful death, you must prove they acted negligently.
This requires documenting the four elements of negligence:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
After a serious injury or fatality incident, your attorney will seek strong evidence to document each of these elements. For example, let’s say your loved one died after a Roswell truck collision. The truck driver ran a red light and hit your family member’s vehicle.
The evidence will need to show:
- The truck driver had a duty of care to stop as established by traffic laws
- They failed to do so, running the red light and violating the applicable laws
- Their breach of duty caused the crash
- Your loved one suffered severe injuries and passed away as a result
Documenting negligence, establishing liability, and valuing your family’s damages takes time and evidence. Working with an attorney is a highly effective way to develop a strong argument to support your insurance claim or lawsuit. You need to convince the insurance company or judge and jury of your side of the story to recover fair compensation for your family.
When you work with a legal team, they will take action to investigate and document the incident and your loved one’s death.
For example, they may collect evidence such as:
- Any official reports, such as the accident report compiled by responding officers
- The victim’s medical records, death certificate, and other relevant documentation
- Eyewitness statements
- Video footage or photographs
- Expert testimony, if necessary
- An accident scene survey
- Accident reconstruction
- Documentation of damages
This evidence can help prove your civil case against the accused party and allows your attorney to better understand the true cost of losing your loved one, including both tangible and intangible losses. During their investigation, your attorney can establish a fair settlement range for the case.
Civil Cases versus Criminal Cases
It is important to note that there may be a concurrent criminal case against the party you believe is legally responsible for your loved one’s death—especially if the incident occurred because of that party’s drinking and driving, drug use, assault, or another intentional or reckless activity. The outcome of your civil case does not rely on the outcome of the criminal case.
In fact, it is generally easier to win a civil case and hold someone legally responsible for damages than to win a criminal case. The burden of proof can be significantly more difficult to meet in a criminal case.
Your Wrongful Death Attorney Can Navigate the Claims Process for Your Family
Most successful wrongful death cases end with a negotiated settlement agreement. Few of these cases go to trial. Instead, the parties agree that the insurer will pay out a set amount to cover the family’s damages. In return, the family will not pursue further civil action against the liable party.
The process begins when the lawyer representing your family sends a demand letter to the liable party’s insurer. This letter outlines the case, what led to your loved one’s death, and the damages your family endured. It then demands compensation for the recoverable damages, listing a total payout amount.
In most cases, the insurer responds by beginning their own investigation into what happened, usually by gathering their own evidence and seeking ways to reduce or deny the claim’s value. It is imperative to have an attorney who can advise you on protecting your rights and handle all communication with the insurer during this time.
Once the insurance company completes their investigation, they will either:
- Issue a counteroffer, usually significantly lower than the demand
- Pay the demand (which rarely occurs)
- Deny the claim outright
Most cases enter into settlement negotiations at this point. The insurer continues to offer too-low settlements while your attorney fights for a fair payout. Settlement negotiations could go on for months or conclude relatively quickly—each case is different. However, many cases eventually reach a settlement that works for both sides. Each party signs an agreement, and the case is over.
Suing the Liable Party for Your Loved One’s Tragic Death
If your case does not settle within a reasonable time period or there are other reasons why your attorney believes it is necessary, you may need to sue the liable party or parties who caused your loved one’s death. When this occurs, your lawyer can prepare and file the initial complaint to begin a lawsuit in Fulton County civil court or the appropriate county’s courthouse.
While many people want to avoid filing a lawsuit because they worry about going to trial, it is important to remember that your attorney would not advise taking this step unless it was necessary—also, most lawsuits never go to trial. Your case may still end in a settlement due to ongoing settlement negotiations or court-ordered mediation. Many judges require mediation before they will put a trial date on their docket.
Meeting the Statute of Limitations
Under Georgia law, you likely only have up to 24 months after a wrongful death occurs to begin a lawsuit. Missing this date could cost you the right to sue the liable parties and recover compensation in the case—no matter how strong your case may be.
If there is no fair settlement offer as the deadline approaches, your attorney will likely recommend beginning a lawsuit to preserve your rights.
Some circumstances can toll (or temporarily pause) this deadline, including:
- When the wrongful death results from a criminal act
- When the courts have not fully probated the estate
You will still need to act as soon as possible to sue or resolve the case to protect your family’s right to pursue justice and a financial recovery. Your legal team can provide more information about the deadlines that may apply in your Georgia wrongful death case.
Enlist the Help of a Wrongful Death Attorney in Atlanta Today
Working with a lawyer who regularly handles personal injury and wrongful death claims can give you valuable experience, knowledge, and resources that you would not have otherwise. Your attorney will advocate for your family and fight to recover fair compensation for you.
Most wrongful death law firms offer a free case review for families who lost a loved one in a Fulton County negligence accident. During the review, you can discuss your case, explore your legal options, and find out how they may be able to help. You can also ask questions about their fees, the legal process, and your possible financial recovery.