When the actions of another person cause the unexpected loss of a loved one, you may have many questions running through your mind. Can what happened be considered wrongful death or is it just a tragic accident? What does it take to file this kind of claim? Is there a time limit for filing this form of lawsuit in Georgia? Your Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyer can help answer these questions.
Who is allowed to pursue wrongful death cases under Georgia laws? If the case is successful and settlement is awarded, how would the proceeds be divided? Is this money taxable, and who would be responsible for paying?
All these are questions that can make this upsetting time even more difficult. While the legal system has provisions to make the victims whole, confusion and uncertainty lurk around every corner. The right knowledge, skills, and resources can help make the ordeal much easier.
Working with an Atlanta wrongful death lawyer from Diaz & Gaeta can ensure you get the answers and guidance you need. We can assess your case for free and provide you with your legal options. This unfortunate event doesn’t have to define you. Our team of personal injury lawyers in Atlanta can work with you to ensure you’re well-compensated and put you on the right track to healing.
How Is Wrongful Death Defined in the State of Georgia?
Wrongful death is defined as the death of a person as a result of the wrongful act or negligence of another person. According to Georgia Code § 51-4-1, these cases are those where human life ends as a direct result of another person’s negligent, criminal, or reckless act.
The Georgia Wrongful Death Act has been in place for more than 100 years, with a number of addendums being added to it over the years. The Act outlines the various possible legal ground for bringing a wrongful death claim in Georgia:
- Criminal actions, such as intentional homicide.
- Medical malpractice, such as prescription errors, surgical errors, or medical injury.
- Defective products.
- Faulty construction and engineering malpractice.
- Nursing home abuse or neglect.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.
- Contaminated food or other sanitation issues in commercial establishments.
- Pedestrian accident fatalities.
- Improper or illegal service of alcohol, like when a bartender continues serving alcohol to a patron who’s visibly intoxicated.
Who Is Qualified to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia?
Georgia law allows for the legal heirs or surviving family to legally bring a wrongful death case on the behalf of the deceased. The goal is to seek financial compensation for the survivors of the loved one. In most cases, damages include the loss of companionship, funeral and burial expenses, and the remaining medical expenses. There can also be financial support for the spouse and dependent children.
The law only allows for some specific people to file a wrongful death case. These include the following:
This is the first person allowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, especially if they were still married. They can also file a suit on behalf of the children the deceased had, who were under 18 years. The spouse is entitled to at least a third of the full financial recovery from the claim.
If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving children are entitled to recover damages.
If the deceased leaves no surviving spouse or children, a surviving parent can file a wrongful death claim.
A Person Serving as the Representative of the Estate
A designated representative of the deceased estate can also bring a wrongful death claim. Any damages won will go to the deceased’s estate and be distributed among the next of kin.
What Types of Damages Are Recoverable?
Georgia Law requires all damages in wrongful death cases to be related directly to the injuries the deceased suffered and the resulting death. Damages suffered by the surviving family due to the untimely death of their loved one are not considered compensable or relevant. Your Atlanta wrongful death lawyer will cover all of this with you.
Overall, there are three general categories of damages that may be pursued in a Georgia lawsuit involving wrongful death:
These are special damages that can be calculated in absolute amounts. In wrongful death cases, these include financial recovery for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills leading up to the death
- Lost physical property
- and other exact-value documented expenses.
Non-economic damages can also be included in a claim if the deceased did not die immediately after the accident or injury. This is a common element in wrongful death claims, and every case will be determined by the material case facts. Other examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering leading up to the death
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Other non-economic damages arising during the time period between injury and subsequent death
Full Value of Life Claim
This is assigned as the property of the family and will be paid on a court-mandated schedule based on each party to the wrongful death lawsuit. The settlement award for the full value of life claims includes the full value of the decedent’s life and other important elements like:
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of future financial support
- Mental and emotional anguish
- Loss of relationship with the parent
Can Surviving Family File For Punitive Damages?
Georgia courts continually hold that punitive damages should not be recovered in wrongful death cases because the wrongful death action itself is designed to punish the negligent person, and it would be redundant.
However, there are certain exceptions. For instance, punitive damages can be awarded in an estate claim if the defendant’s actions are deemed to be intentional, malicious, or showed a callous disregard for the safety and well-being of the deceased. Your Atlanta Wrongful death lawyer will investigate all options for you.
How Is Negligence Proved in a Wrongful Death Case?
The following are the elements of a wrongful death case in Georgia:
Duty of Care
The plaintiff has to demonstrate that the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care under the circumstances leading up to the injuries and the subsequent loss of life.
Breach of Duty of Care
The plaintiff will then need to show exactly how the defendant was in breach of their duty of case. This can be proved through a given action or inaction in a situation where a reasonable person ought to have acted appropriately in the same situation.
The plaintiff also has to show that the wrongful death was a direct result of this breach of duty of care by the defendant, and not from other causes.
You also have to show that the deceased and the surviving family members suffered damages. A person’s untimely death is enough proof to show that you suffered damages.
How Do You Start a Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia?
It’s worth noting that wrongful death lawsuits in Georgia are governed by strict statutes and rules. Still, there are certain best practices that can help ensure you have maximum odds of success. Before you file a claim, it’s recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney for guidance.
Consult or Hire a Atlanta wrongful death lawyer.
Hiring an attorney should be among the first steps in bringing your claim – it improves your odds of getting a favorable outcome. An Atlanta wrongful death lawyer will hear you out, assess the circumstances of the case, and let you know if you cave a case.
Once your Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyer has established that you have enough cause for a lawsuit, they will conduct a thorough investigation, along with collecting and evaluating the available evidence to build a case.
A key role of an attorney is to ensure you get a fair settlement. This typically involves negotiating with the defendant’s side until they make a satisfactory offer. Most cases usually close at this stage, but if the negotiations fail, the case can go to trial.
This usually involves presenting the case in front of a jury or judge, who can then decide the outcome of your claim after hearing arguments from both sides.
What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and an Estate Claim?
Wrongful death claims are civil claims typically filed by the surviving family members to seek compensation for the decedent’s life.
Estate claims, on the other hand, are when the victim’s estate attempts to recover compensation for the financial damages associated with the death of the victim. An estate claim can also include punitive damages in some cases.
An Experienced Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help Prove Your Case
Winning a wrongful death claim will largely depend on your representation and how it’s tried before the court. If you lost a loved one in a wrongful death case, working with an experienced team of Wrongful Death lawyers is the best way to win your case. Attorneys that are well versed in wrongful death claims understand how to collect and present the necessary evidence to win the case.
At Diaz & Gaeta, we understand the complexities of wrongful death lawsuits. We have been practicing in Georgia for decades, and we have tried and won hundreds of cases. Reach out to us at 678-329-9084 to schedule a free consultation with an Atlanta wrongful death attorney.