If a person dies in an accident, his or her family may bring a wrongful death claim against the party at fault. They can seek compensation for the loss of their loved one’s life.
What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim is brought against a defendant who’s caused another person’s death.
A wrongful death action in Georgia is a claim that can be brought pursuant to statute when there is a death caused by the negligent, reckless, intentional, or criminal actions or another person, company, or business. The type of compensation in wrongful death cases varies quite a bit from state to state, as is discussed below.
How Does Wrongful Death Work in Georgia?
In Georgia, when an individual is killed by the wrongful act of another, that party is required to compensate the deceased person’s family for “the full value of the life” of the person who died. The “full value” of a life has two parts. The most important part is intangible. This intangible part considers what the deceased person liked to do, the subjective value of the deceased’s relationships, and the opportunities that the deceased will miss out on.
In addition, there is an economic component to the “full value” of a life. Economic compensation is determined by what the deceased person would have earned, plus the economic value of services that he or she performed. In some cases, the law firm representing the estate of the deceased in a wrongful death case may hire an expert to provide an expert opinion as to the amount of money the deceased would have made for the rest of his or her life, and the value of services that the deceased would have performed.
What About Wrongful Death in Other States?
Each state has its own wrongful death statute. No two state statutes are exactly alike—they each have their own criteria and procedural requirements for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Some states give government agencies immunity from prosecution for wrongful death lawsuits, while other allow these cases to go forward. For example, if a loved one is killed by a state highway maintenance vehicle.
Real Parties in Interest
A real party in interest is an individual or entity that has the legal right to assert and to enforce the claim. Just exactly who is a real party in interest in a wrongful death claim can be different in each state.
In some states, like Arizona and Nevada, the claim must be filed by the decedent’s surviving spouse, child, parent, or personal representative of deceased person.
In contrast, Alabama, North Carolina, and New York all require that a wrongful death claim can only be filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
There are numerous wrinkles and specific distinctions to states’ wrongful death statutes.
In California, the domestic partner of the deceased may bring a wrongful death claim.
Hawaii allows anyone who was financially dependent on the decedent to bring a wrongful death action, along with a “reciprocal beneficiary.” Idaho allows any dependent blood relatives to bring a lawsuit.
In Colorado, in some circumstances, in the first year after death, only the surviving spouse can file, and in the second year after the decedent’s death, surviving children then can also file a claim.
Tennessee has a specific order of when a person can bring a wrongful death claim. Its statute requires the action to first be brought by the spouse. If there’s no spouse, then the surviving children or next of kin may bring suit. If no spouse, children, or next of kin, then the right to sue belongs to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
As you can see, these variations in the law show it takes a legal specialist in wrongful death with years of experience in that particular state to handle this type of claim effectively.
Another key differences among states is whether a jury may award punitive damages when the decedent died due to egregious conduct and gross negligence by the defendant.
Most states don’t allow punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits. In Georgia, a claim for punitive damages must be brought by the estate, and if the deceased had a will, the will administrator is required to bring the estate claim. If the decedent didn’t have a will, then Georgia’s laws of intestacy state the proper person to bring the claim.
In some states—like Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida—allow punitive damages in connection with wrongful death claims.
Tennessee allows this type of damages in some instances, and punitive damages are generally not allowed in wrongful death claims in states as Indiana and Louisiana.
What are Wrongful Death Compensation and Damages?
In Georgia, an estate claim allows the family to recover for the pain and suffering of the decedent, medical bills incurred before death, funeral expenses, and some other costs.
In other states, a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim may be able to recover the deceased’s pre-death pain and suffering (a survival claim), medical costs, funeral and burial costs, the loss of the deceased person’s expected income, the value of the services that the deceased would have provided, the loss of love and companionship, and the loss of consortium.
It’s critical to understand that a wrongful death claim is usually filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim, on behalf of survivors who had a relationship with the victim—but that the exact definition of survivors or who is entitled to bring the claim varies from state to state.
Only an experienced attorney like those of the Butler Law Firm can effectively and efficiently file a wrongful death claim and bring about the most favorable result for your family.
If your loved one has been killed in an accident, we are sorry. We hope this page has been helpful. If you would like to talk with us about your family’s case, please contact us.