Nothing is harder than the loss of a loved one, especially when their death was caused by someone else’s wrongful actions. As you and your family grieve, a lawsuit is probably the last thing you want to deal with. That said, the law does provide an avenue for you to seek justice and accountability.
At Butler Kahn, we understand how painful a wrongful death can be for surviving family and friends. Though we cannot undo what has been done, we are very proud to provide the compassionate legal representation you deserve. If you have lost a loved one in a wrongful death, contact us today for a free consultation.
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
It goes without saying that no amount of money can ever truly compensate for a lost life. Even so, the law seeks to provide surviving family members with some consolation and a measure of justice when another’s wrongful actions lead to the loss of a loved one.
To that end, Georgia law allows family members to file suit seeking compensation for “the full value of the life of the decedent.” This value is measured “from the decedent’s perspective,” not from the perspective of surviving family members. Brock v. Wedincamp, 253 Ga. App. 275, 281-82 (2002). Because of the subjective and perhaps even impossible nature of this inquiry, it is left up to the “enlightened conscience” of the jury to come up with an appropriate number. Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden, 339 Ga. App. 733, 750 (2016).
In calculating this value, the jury weighs both “tangible” and “intangible” aspects of the decedent’s life. Tangible aspects will include things that can be reduced to dollars and cents — for example, the income they would have received if still alive. Intangible aspects will include things that simply cannot be boiled down to a hard number — for example, the value of the decedent’s family ties and friendships.
Because the jury is given so much latitude when coming up with a final number, it is very important to have an attorney who can convey the full significance of the loss in the unique context of the decedent’s life. In other words, it is essential to recruit an attorney who is both skilled at communicating with juries and who can truly empathize with your loss.
To learn more about how damages are calculated in wrongful death cases, follow this link for an economist’s explanation of tangible and intangible losses in a case handled by Butler Kahn.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
In Georgia, only certain family members are allowed to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit after a loved one’s death. In order of priority, these family members are:
- Spouse –If the decedent was married, their surviving spouse is first in line.
- Children –If there is no spouse, surviving children are second in line.
- Spouse and Children –If the decedent is survived by both a spouse and children, the surviving spouse files suit and acts as the representative of the children.
- Parents –If there is no surviving spouse or children, the decedent’s parents may file suit. Further, parents are nearly always first in line to bring a wrongful death claim for the death of a minor child.
Who Receives the Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Compensation recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit is distributed to surviving family members. In general, whoever is entitled to file suit is also entitled to compensation. For example, if surviving children file suit, the recovery will be distributed proportionately among them.
Similarly, if the surviving spouse files suit while simultaneously acting as the representative of surviving children, the recovery is distributed proportionately between the spouse and children. However, the spouse’s share can never be less than one-third of the total recovery. If the decedent was divorced, their ex-spouses cannot share in the recovery.
Finally, if the decedent had children who died before them, the heirs of those children do not receive a portion of the recovery. In other words, grandchildren cannot recover for the wrongful death of their grandparents.
To learn more about how compensation is distributed in wrongful death cases in Georgia, follow this link for a video presentation by Jeb Butler of Butler Kahn.
Wrongful Death vs. Survival Action: What Is the Difference?
Note that a wrongful death action is not the same as a survival action. A wrongful death case is brought by surviving family members. By contrast, a survival action is brought by the decedent’s personal representative on behalf of their estate.
Survival actions may compensate for things like the decedent’s medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, and funeral/burial costs. Any money recovered in a survival action is distributed according to the decedent’s last will and testament. If there is no will, it is distributed according to state laws of intestate succession.
Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
Yes, this deadline is set by a law known as the statute of limitations. In Georgia, the standard deadline in wrongful death cases is two years from the date of the death. However, this deadline can sometimes be shortened or extended.
For example, if the party responsible for the death is a government entity, the deadline can be significantly shortened. Depending on what government entity is at fault — federal, state, county, or city — you could have as little as six months to file your case.
On the other hand, if the death occurred as the result of a crime or some other violation of Georgia law, the statute of limitations might be “tolled.” In other words, the two-year clock will only start its countdown once the at-fault party’s prosecution for their violation is finished. However, the extension cannot exceed six years.
No matter what deadline governs your case, missing it almost always eliminates your right to seek compensation in court. Therefore, it is essential that you have your case reviewed by an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. Call us today.
To learn more about Georgia’s wrongful death statute of limitations, follow this link for a video presentation by Jeb Butler of Butler Kahn.
Contact a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you are reading this page because a loved one has been killed in an accident, we are truly sorry for your loss. We hope the information on this page has been helpful. If you’d like to talk with us about your situation, call us or contact us online. There is no charge to talk about your case with our experienced Georgia wrongful death lawyers.