When a drunk driver takes the wheel, a landlord fails to keep a property maintained, or a doctor fails to diagnose a disease, wrongful death can happen. How is “wrongful” death defined? In Georgia, if you die accidentally because someone was negligent, will your family have legal options? Will they be entitled to compensation? Keep reading, and you’ll learn what everyone needs to know, in these dangerous times, about wrongful death and the law in Georgia.
When another person’s negligent action – or negligent lack of action – causes an accidental death, even though there was no intention or premeditation to kill, the fatality may be deemed a “wrongful” death. When someone’s negligence leads to someone else’s death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be pursued, usually by the immediate relatives of the deceased person, against the person or persons whose negligence caused the death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that seeks monetary compensation. A civil case is an entirely different type of procedure from a criminal prosecution. Criminal prosecutions may lead to criminal convictions and penalties such as fines and incarceration. However, monetary damages can only be acquired by surviving family members through a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
HOW CAN A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT HELP?
A family that prevails with a wrongful death lawsuit can obtain compensation for a decedent’s lost wages and more. If you lose a parent, child, or spouse accidentally in the state of Georgia, as difficult as it may at a time of grief, you must seek the advice of an experienced Atlanta wrongful death attorney who can explain your family’s legal rights and options.
Each state has wrongful death laws which spell out who may file a wrongful death lawsuit, what damages are available, and a statute of limitations restricting the amount of time a decedent’s survivors have to take legal action. Georgia law specifies precise rules for determining who is entitled to file a wrongful death claim. Nevertheless, according to the Atlanta law firm of Boling Rice, trying to file a wrongful death claim in Georgia can be “quite complicated and confusing.”
In Georgia, if the decedent was married at the time of the wrongful death, the spouse alone has the exclusive right to file a wrongful death action. If there is no spouse, the right to sue for wrongful death passes to the decedent’s children. If there is no spouse or children, the right to sue passes to the living parents of the deceased. If there is no living parent, children, or spouse, only then does the right to sue pass to the administrator of the decedent’s estate.
HOW ARE “NEGLIGENCE” AND “WRONGFUL DEATH” LEGALLY DEFINED?
The law in Georgia defines a “wrongful death” as a death caused by the “negligent, reckless, intentional, or criminal” actions of another person or an “entity” like a business. Generally in civil law, “negligence” is defined as the failure to act with reasonable care when there is a duty to do so, and that failure then results in someone else’s personal injury or wrongful death.
If the decedent in a wrongful death and his or her spouse were parents, the surviving spouse must also represent the children in the wrongful death action. However, Georgia law specifies that a spouse may not receive less than a third of the total damages in a wrongful death award – it doesn’t matter how many children have to split the remaining two-thirds.
Georgia law has established two kinds of wrongful death claims. A claim that is strictly aimed at compensating the financial losses related to the deceased person’s death may be brought by or on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. The estate may obtain damages for medical costs arising from the deceased person’s fatal injury or illness, funeral and burial expenses, and the pain and suffering of the deceased person prior to death.
HOW CAN SURVIVING FAMILY MEMBERS BE COMPENSATED?
The second type of wrongful death claim – filed by or on behalf of the family members – goes beyond the decedent’s personal damages and accounts for the losses to the family members including the “intangible value” of the decedent’s life.
Surviving family members may potentially be compensated for:
– lost income and lost benefits, including the decedent’s projected earnings
– loss of consortium, companionship, and other intangible benefits provided to loved ones
How long do a decedent’s survivors or an estate administrator have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia? The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in this state, in most circumstances, is two years. However, in some narrowly limited situations, that two-year “clock” may be “tolled” or paused.
For instance, if a criminal prosecution is being conducted regarding events related to the wrongful death – a DUI prosecution of the negligent driver, for example – the statutory “clock” on the civil wrongful death case is suspended until the criminal case concludes, at which time the clock begins to “run” again.
Additionally, in Georgia, the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases may be “tolled” or paused for as long as five years if the decedent’s estate has not been probated. That means, in rare cases, some wrongful death claims may be filed seven years from the date of the death. If you lose a loved one in a wrongful death in Georgia, don’t wait two years – or seven – and then scramble to file a wrongful death lawsuit at the last minute.
AFTER A WRONGFUL DEATH, WHEN DO YOU NEED TO ACT?
Instead – and again, this may be difficult immediately after losing a loved one – you should put your wrongful death case as quickly as possible in the hands of an experienced Atlanta wrongful death attorney. Heartache and sorrow can be overwhelming after the unexpected loss of someone you love, and no sum of cash can ease that pain, but the future of your family after a loved one’s wrongful death is a genuine and necessary consideration.
In the 21st century, dangers can lurk almost anywhere. A trip to the convenience store, a simple surgical procedure, even dinner at a restaurant could lead to a deadly vehicle crash, an incident of fatal medical malpractice, or a food poisoning fatality. In such cases, wrongful death settlements and verdicts can provide for families that would otherwise suffer financial hardship and help the family members to move ahead positively and constructively with their lives.
In the state of Georgia, if you lose someone you love because someone else was negligent, you must think of your family and the future. It may be painful to deal with the emotional and legal issues at the same time, but it’s imperative to let a skilled Atlanta wrongful death attorney help your family, protect your rights, and advocate on your behalf after a loved one’s wrongful death.