Bringing Wrongful Death Actions
Georgia law identifies specific individuals who are authorized to bring wrongful death actions. The surviving spouse first in line to bring the wrongful death claim. If the deceased did not leave behind a surviving spouse, the child (or children) of the deceased are authorized to pursue the claim. When the deceased does not leave behind a spouse or child, the parents of the deceased may bring the wrongful death claim. In the event that the deceased did not leave behind a spouse, child, or parent, a representative of the deceased person’s estate may bring the wrongful death claim.
Examples of Wrongful Death Cases
Almost any person or company may be sued for wrongful death in Georgia. Commonly, the person whose actions caused the death is held responsible. In some instances, the company employing the individual can be held responsible for the death. For example, both the trucking company and its employee-driver may be liable when the driver recklessly operates her tractor-trailer and kills someone. Another basis for a wrongful death claim occurs when a company employee creates an unsafe condition that causes the death of a customer. Similarly, an employee’s death can give rise to a wrongful death action when a non-employee causes the person’s death. Likewise, a company or person who designs a defective product can be responsible when someone dies while using that product.
Georgia Wrongful Death Damages
Damages arising from a wrongful death in Georgia are unique because two distinct legal claims should be pursued. These claims are separated legally and identified as a “wrongful death” claim and an “estate” claim.
A wrongful death claim empowers a jury to award damages for the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.” Unlike other states, Georgia has a very unique measure of damages for wrongful death because it uses the value of the deceased’s life to him or her, not the relative pursuing the claim or anyone else. This is important because it means that the measure of damages in a wrongful death action in Georgia is the same as if the person killed had survived his or her catastrophic injuries and was instead rendered totally and permanently disabled. The only difference is that there can be no recovery for future medical and living expenses.
An estate claim occurs when the deceased has awareness of his or her fatal injuries and impending death. This evidence will support an estate claim to recover damages for the decedent’s last pain and suffering. In addition to recovery for the last physical and mental pain and suffering, the other components of an estate claim include recovery for any medical expenses incurred by the decedent to treat the injuries that caused his or her death, and the burial and funeral expenses.
Damages to punish the wrongdoer, known as punitive damages, are generally prohibited in Georgia wrongful death actions. However, in some cases, evidence of “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences” by the responsible party may warrant the imposition of punitive damages.
Evidence Needed to Pursue a Wrongful Death Case in Georgia
While parties generally have two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death case in Georgia, it is very important to secure evidence immediately. Gathering enough evidence to prove someone acted wrongfully and caused the death of another can be difficult. Your loved one is not there to testify about what happened. In most situations, this means the best witness is unavailable. Instead, you must rely on other types of evidence to prove the at-fault party’s wrongful acts or omissions. This evidence can include:
- Police reports and video
- Witness testimony
- Medical records
- Medical expert testimony
- Vehicle data
- Accident reconstruction expert testimony
- Pictures and/or video footage of the accident
- 911 audio
Contact an Athens Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
When someone you love has been killed because of the carelessness or wrongdoing of others, it is natural for you and your family to experience unbearable grief and anger. During these emotional times, it can be difficult to even begin to consider your legal options and strategies for holding the proper parties accountable for your loss. But because Georgia wrongful death cases involve varied and complex legal issues, it is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side. Call the Athens Injury Law Group’s team of wrongful death lawyers today at 706-559-0159 or contact them here to ensure that you and your family get the justice you deserve.