In Georgia, wrongful death refers to any fatality caused by another party’s negligence. If you lost a loved one due to a wrongful death in Georgia, you might have questions about who can file a wrongful death suit.
Several family members, including spouses and children, could have the right to file a lawsuit for financial compensation. Unfortunately, wrongful death suits can get complicated. For instance, state law restricts how long you have to file your lawsuit. This article outlines who may file wrongful death lawsuits, the damages available, and other important matters in these cases.
What Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Under Georgia law, wrongful death refers to any death caused by negligence, recklessness, or criminal intent. Negligence includes any failure to behave with an expected level of care based on the circumstances. For example, impaired or distracted driving constitutes negligence.
Some negligent actions leading to wrongful death cases include:
- A construction site supervisor fails to abide by safety regulations, causing a worksite accident
- A drowsy truck driver loses focus on the road, leading to a crash
- A dog owner lets an unleashed animal roam, leading to a child’s attack
- A grocery store owner doesn’t repair a leaking cooler, leading to a slip and fall
An individual could bear liability in a wrongful death case. You may also file a lawsuit against a business or government entity. For instance, you could file a lawsuit against a truck driver’s corporate employer if you lost a loved one in a truck accident.
#1. Surviving Spouse of the Deceased
The deceased person’s spouse takes priority in a wrongful death case. Under Georgia law, a surviving spouse should receive at least one-third of the financial recovery that results from a wrongful death suit.
#2. Surviving Children of the Deceased
If the deceased does not have a spouse, children may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their lost parent. According to state law, children born outside of a legally defined marriage may also claim wrongful death.
#3. Surviving Parents
If the decedent was not legally married and had no children, the surviving parents may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
#4. The Estate’s Representative
The decedent’s surviving family members may oversee the lost loved one’s estate. However, they may also appoint a representative to file the wrongful death lawsuit. If any financial compensation results from the lawsuit, it will go to the person’s estate. The estate’s representative would then distribute the funds among the surviving family members.
Who May Not File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
In most cases, friends, co-workers, or other non-related people do not have the right to file a wrongful death claim unless the family appointed them as an estate representative.
If you were dating the deceased but had not married them, you do not have the right to bring a wrongful death case, even if you were engaged. Only legally married partners may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Kind of Damages Can a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawsuit Recover?
A family member’s sudden death can cause massive financial and emotional upheaval in the lives of the surviving family members. Damages can address these losses.
In Georgia, wrongful death damages fall into two categories: financial losses and non-financial losses.
Financial damages encompass many financial impacts of a wrongful death. For instance, when the decedent passed away, they were no longer able to earn money. Therefore, you and your family may no longer receive several economic benefits, both in the present and the future.
Non-economic damages, also called intangible losses, have no direct monetary amounts. Instead, these losses account for emotional grief, loss of companionship with the decedent, and other benefits the surviving family members no longer have access to in the absence of their loved one.
Calculating Total Compensation in Wrongful Death Suits
In Georgia, juries must determine “the full value of a victim’s life.” It may seem impossible to encompass a loved one’s life in economic terms. However, juries will base their determination on evidence from the victim’s life.
They may consider witness testimony, statements from economists, and other types of evidence to assess the total compensation available in a wrongful death case.
Damages for financial losses cover what the victim would have earned if they had survived. This includes salaries, tips, contributions to their retirement portfolio, and investments.
Other economic losses include the benefits of the decedent’s services they would have performed for the family.
Examples of some of these services may include:
- Cooking meals
- Minor home repairs
- Home maintenance, such as painting
As discussed earlier, these losses do not have specific dollar amounts to look at or consider. However, these losses involve evaluating everything the victim will miss, including spending time with family members.
Some broad examples of activities and pleasures the victim will miss include:
- Getting married
- Having children
- Watching their children grow
- Seeing their children have children of their own
- Quality time with a spouse
- Enjoying hobbies such as painting or crafting
- Companionship with a pet
- Visiting friends on vacation
- Watching or playing sports
The list of potential activities the victim could miss might mean dozens of things, depending on the unique details of the victim’s life. Approaching a jury with these and other types of evidence can prove challenging. However, an Atlanta wrongful death attorney can work to communicate the value of these losses to a jury.
Estate Claims in Wrongful Death Cases
In Georgia, state law also allows the decedent’s estate to seek additional damages on behalf of the decedent. These damages tie directly to the decedent’s physical and emotional state before their passing, as well as their financial requirements before and immediately after their passing.
Common damages in estate claims include:
- Medical bills for treating the person’s injuries or diseases before they passed
- Expenses tied to lay the person to rest, including burial and funeral expenses
- Pre-impact damages for the decedent’s suffering before their passing
Pre-impact damages attempt to recover compensation for the shock and fear experienced by the decedent in the moments before their passing. For instance, if the decedent was in a car accident, they may have suffered from substantial fear in the moments leading up to the crash.
Surviving Family Members Can Bring Estate Claims
A representative of the deceased person’s estate generally brings an estate claim. A surviving family member or another party may act as the estate representative. An estate representative may file an estate claim simultaneously with the wrongful death claim if the case qualifies for both types of actions.
However, the decedent does not always leave a will-and, therefore, does not always appoint an estate representative. Georgia inheritance laws will then determine who may bring an estate claim.
A consultation with an Atlanta wrongful death law firm could help to explain the complex details of various damages and provide you with a thorough understanding of your legal options.
How Long Do I Have to File a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Georgia state law, also known as the statute of limitations, requires that you file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of a loved one’s death. However, legal exceptions to the case could shorten or extend this time limit. An attorney can clarify which deadlines apply to your case.
If a prosecuting attorney charges the negligent person or entity with a criminal act in the death of the decedent, this could extend the statute of limitations. Under Georgia law, the statute of limitations can get extended until the resolution of the criminal case or for up to six years, whichever comes first.
The legal criteria for criminal acts do not have to involve physical assault or violence. For example, criminal charges could apply if the person responsible was charged for traffic infractions leading to the person’s death.
Government Liability Claims
If the liable party in a wrongful death case was a government employee, the statute of limitations might shorten to as little as six months. Again, an attorney can explain how this may affect your filing deadline.
Act Promptly to Meet the Filing Deadline
You and your family deserve the time to deal with your grief and pressing challenges after losing a loved one. However, you should get started on your case as soon as possible. Failing to meet the statute of limitations deadline could bar you from recovering compensation.
By reaching out to a law firm as soon as possible, you can keep your case on track.
Unintentional Injuries Cause a Significant Number of Fatal Accidents
Unintentional accidents are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over 200,000 people lose their lives to unintentional injury accidents every year. Unintentional falls and motor vehicle accidents are the leading causes of these tragedies.
If you lost a loved one to an unintentional or wrongful death, you do not have to face this hardship alone. You and your family may deserve justice and compensation for your loss.
Even if you aren’t sure if your loved one’s passing constitutes a wrongful death under Georgia law, a law firm can tell you if you have a valid case. Don’t dismiss your family’s chances of pursuing a case without getting a case review from a law firm.
Limit What You Say to the Insurance Companies
The insurance company representatives of the negligent person or company who caused your loved one’s death may contact you and offer a quick, low-dollar settlement.
They may offer a settlement amount far less than the wrongful death claim’s total value.
In some situations, the other party may even deny your case altogether. They may claim that they were not liable for your loved one’s passing. They could also attempt to stall your claim’s fulfillment, among other unfair tactics.
Before you sign anything or agree to a settlement offer, consider contacting a wrongful death lawyer’s team. They can handle the conversations with insurance companies for you. A lawyer can also protect your rights and ensure that your case progresses appropriately.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help?
Bringing a wrongful death case takes an overwhelming amount of time and effort that most grieving families cannot handle. You may want to seek help from a wrongful death lawyer. An attorney can provide guidance and clarity during a time of grief. They can also take on all the legal burdens of your case for you to focus on what matters most in your life at this time.
A lawyer can:
- File necessary paperwork
- Explain who can file a wrongful death suit
- Advise you of important laws that affect your case
- Handle negotiations and communications with the liable party’s representatives
- Deal with any unfair insurance tactics
- Take your case to trial as necessary
- Keep you updated through every step of the legal process
Reputable wrongful death lawyers work on contingency, meaning you pay no initial fees to start a case. This fee structure can allow you to get the legal assistance you need without worrying about added legal costs.
For many families, they can offer attainable and affordable legal help for your wrongful death case.