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Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?

Mother comforting her crying daughter.

Mother comforting her crying daughter.While the death of a loved one is always difficult, losing someone because of another party’s negligence or misconduct is especially painful. If someone close to you has recently died and someone else is to blame, you could be entitled to compensation. However, only certain family members stand to benefit monetarily from such a claim. Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia? The basic legal guideline for Georgia wrongful death claims is that compensation must be split equally between the victim’s surviving spouse and children. The spouse is entitled to no less than one-third of the total amount.

What Is a Wrongful Death Suit?

Georgia law defines wrongful death as any human death caused by another party’s negligent or intentional actions or inaction. Common causes of wrongful death lawsuits include

  • Car accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective products
  • Other negligence-based incidents
  • Assault or homicide
  • Reckless conduct

It can be useful to think of a wrongful death lawsuit as a type of personal injury lawsuit for which the victim is no longer alive to claim compensation. Because the victim cannot file a lawsuit or collect the money themselves, the law grants certain survivors the right to do so on their behalf.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in Georgia?

In some states, only a court-approved personal representative of the deceased’s estate has the authority to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In these states, surviving family members of the deceased are the ones who stand to benefit from wrongful death lawsuits, but they do not have the right to file the claims themselves.

In Georgia, on the other hand, certain family members have the right to file wrongful death lawsuits personally. If a wrongful death victim leaves behind a surviving spouse, the spouse has sole authority to file the wrongful death lawsuit. This rule applies whether or not the deceased and their surviving spouse had children in common.

If a surviving spouse files a wrongful death claim, they must include their children in the claim and share any awarded compensation with the children. The surviving spouse is always entitled to at least one-third of the total compensation.

If a surviving minor child is entitled to compensation, their share is typically held in trust by a parent or guardian until they come of age. And if the victim has surviving grandchildren but no surviving children, the grandchildren may claim the share of compensation their parents would have recovered.

If the victim was divorced, widowed, or otherwise unmarried when they died, their surviving children must be the ones to file suit, and they are jointly entitled to any compensation awarded. If the victim did not leave behind a spouse, child, or dependent, surviving parents can file a wrongful death claim. If the deceased has no surviving family members or dependents, the court may appoint a personal representative to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate.

What Compensation Is Available in a Wrongful Death Suit?

Survivors are typically entitled to compensation for any out-of-pocket expenses caused by the wrongful death of their loved one. Common examples include funeral expenses and the costs of any medical care the victim received before they ultimately passed away.

Georgia law also grants family members the right to claim compensation for “the full value of the life” of a wrongful death victim, not deducting any personal expenses they would have incurred during their lifetime. Courts may examine the following factors to calculate the full value of someone’s life:

  • The projected value of the wages and benefits the person would have earned given their age, experience, occupation, income, and life expectancy
  • The estimated value of the services and support the person would have provided during their lifetime (housekeeping, caring for dependents, etc.)
  • The intangible value of the care, companionship, counsel, and guidance the person would have provided to loved ones
  • The quality time the person would have spent with family, friends, and doing things they enjoyed, as well as the milestones they will miss because of the death

What Is the Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Suit in Georgia?

Surviving family members have a limited amount of time to file wrongful death lawsuits in Georgia, according to the state’s statute of limitations. Generally, you have two years from the time of your loved one’s death to initiate a wrongful death claim. If you wait more than two years to file your case, you may lose your right to demand compensation.

The usual two-year statute of limitations may be tolled, or paused, in certain situations, but it’s never a good idea to wait until the last minute. A Georgia wrongful death lawyer can help you meet important deadlines and keep your case on schedule.

Who Is Responsible for Paying the Judgment in a Georgia Wrongful Death Case?

The party accused of causing the wrongful death, also known as the defendant, pays the judgment following a successful Georgia wrongful death case. Unlike a criminal case, where a conviction can lead to prison time, liability in a civil wrongful death claim is expressed only in monetary terms. Furthermore, the standard of proof is lower in a wrongful death claim than it is in a criminal case. You do not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused your loved one’s death, but rather that they more likely than not did so based on the preponderance of the evidence. So, if you can demonstrate to the court that a defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your losses.

Where Does the Money Go in a Wrongful Death Case?

Certain surviving family members and/or an accident victim’s estate can bring claims for compensation when an accident victim dies. In this article, we discuss how the proceeds of a wrongful death claim are distributed.

Distribution of Wrongful Death Compensation

Georgia law makes an important distinction between the individuals who can bring a wrongful death claim and those who can receive compensation for wrongful death. As a general rule, certain family members will be entitled to share wrongful death compensation even if they are not entitled to bring a wrongful death claim.

As we explain in Proper People to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim or Estate Claim in Georgia, Georgia law determines who is authorized to bring a wrongful death claim. For example, if the decedent was married, his or her spouse is usually the only person who can bring the claim.

Even if the victim’s children are not authorized to bring the claim, they will share in the recovery of wrongful death compensation. Section 51-4-2(d)(1) of the Georgia Code provides that a wrongful death recovery “shall be equally divided, share and share alike, among the surviving spouse and the children per capita, and the descendants of children shall take per stirpes.”

In plain English, the Georgia Code dictates the following distribution of wrongful death compensation:

  • If the victim’s spouse and no more than two children are still living, they each receive an equal share of the compensation. For example, if the victim has two children and a surviving spouse and the amount available for distribution is $600,000, the spouse and each child would receive $200,000.
  • If the victim’s spouse is not alive but the victim’s children are still living, each child receives an equal share of the compensation. If the amount available for distribution is $600,000 and the victim had two children who are still living, each child would receive $300,000.
  • If any of the victim’s children are no longer living, the share that would have been distributed to that child will be distributed equally among the child’s children and grandchildren. For example, if the victim has a surviving spouse, one living child and two grandchildren from a child who died, $600,000 would be divided as follows: $200,000 to the spouse, $200,000 to the surviving child, and $100,000 to each grandchild (each child of the child who died).

A special rule applies if the deceased victim had more than two children. Section 51-4-2(d)(2) of the Georgia Code provides that the surviving spouse shall never receive less than a third of the recovery. For example, if the amount available for distribution is $600,000 and the victim has a surviving spouse and three living children, the spouse would receive one-third (or $200,000), leaving $400,000 to be divided equally among the three children (or $133,333.33 each).

When a child is a minor and his or her share of the distribution is less than $15,000, the child’s surviving parent will manage the money on the child’s behalf. When the distribution exceeds $15,000, a financial guardian (also known as a guardian of the property) must be appointed to manage the funds until the child turns 18.

Wrongful Death Distributions When No Spouse or Children Survive

When no spouse or children are alive at the time of the victim’s death, the deceased accident victim’s surviving parents are entitled to wrongful death compensation. Section 19-7-1(c)(2) provides that the parents will share the compensation equally if they are still married or living together. If only one parent is living, that parent will receive all the compensation.

If both parents are still living but are divorced or living apart, section 17-7-1(c)(6) permits either parent to ask a judge to apportion the compensation “fairly” between the two parents after collecting evidence about the victim’s relationship with each parent. This request must be filed prior to a trial in the wrongful death case.

It is rarely wise to ask a judge to make that apportionment because it may lead to damaging evidence that the defendant’s insurance defense lawyer will use against the parents at the wrongful death trial. To avoid the risk that the jury will reduce compensation based on disturbing evidence that it hears about the parents, it is nearly always wise for parents to agree to share the compensation equally.

When no spouse, children, or parents survive the deceased victim, a wrongful death claim may be brought by the victim’s estate. In addition, the victim’s estate can bring its own claim to recover the victim’s medical and burial expenses, and for pain and suffering that the victim experienced prior to death. When the estate brings a claim, compensation is distributed according to the victim’s Will. If the victim died without a Will, compensation is distributed according to Georgia law in the same way that other property is distributed when the deceased had no Will.

If you have more questions about the distribution of compensation for a wrongful death claim in Georgia, contact Butler Kahn. Our experienced Atlanta, GA wrongful death lawyers can provide the help you need.

Contact a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer Today

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct, you shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial consequences. Contact the Georgia wrongful death lawyers at the Butler Kahn today to learn more about your legal options in a free initial case review.

Picture of Matt Kahn
Matt Kahn is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer and a partner at the law firm Butler Kahn. Matt has dedicated his career to fighting for individuals and families who had been harmed by the negligence of others. At Butler Kahn, he has had the honor of helping families who have lost children in motor vehicle accidents and people who were critically injured. He helped a family secure a $45 million settlement to provide lifetime care for their son, who was critically injured in a motorcycle accident. Matt is a graduate of Emory University School of Law and has been recognized as a Super Lawyers’ Rising Star and by Best Lawyers as One to Watch. He has received an Avvo 10.0 Top Attorney rating. Connect with me on LinkedIn
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