Who can bring a wrongful death case in Georgia?

Georgia law is clear about who can bring a wrongful death claim. It is covered by O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2, § 51-4-4, and § 19-7-1. However, in Georgia, the rules about who can bring the claim are slightly different than the rules about who is entitled to share in the recovery of money received as a result of the wrongful death claim (which is addressed later in these FAQs).

In the case of a wrongful death in Georgia, there is always someone with authorization to bring the claim. O.C.G.A. § 19-7-1(c)(1), (c)(3). If the person who died—known as the “decedent”—had a surviving spouse, that surviving husband or wife is authorized to bring a wrongful death case. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2(a). If the surviving husband or wife dies while the case is going on, then the right to bring the wrongful death case passes to the decedent’s surviving child or children. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2(b)(1). If the decedent was not married at the time of his or her death, then the decedent’s child or children have the right to bring a wrongful death case. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2(a). If the deceased did not have a spouse or children at the time of his or her death, then the deceased’s parents may bring the claim. O.C.G.A. §§ 51-4-4; 19-7-1(c)(2). If for some reason there is no surviving spouse, child, or parent, then the administrator of the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death claim. O.C.G.A. §§ 51-4-5; 19-7-1(c)(3).

Georgia courts have recognized some limited exceptions to these statutory rules. In special circumstances—such as where “the surviving spouse is absent, disabled, has declined to pursue the claim, or has no relation by blood or law to the surviving children”—courts have allowed the children of the decedent to bring a claim even when the decedent had a surviving spouse. Mann v. Taser International, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1311 (11th Cir. 2009). A surviving spouse may lose his right to bring a wrongful death claim if he abandons his children and cannot be found. Brown v. Liberty Oil & Refining Corp., 261 Ga. 214, 215-16 (1991). If the decedent was killed by the wrongful acts of his or her surviving spouse, then the wrongful death claim may be brought by someone else—such as the parent of the decedent or the decedent’s children. Carringer v. Rodgers, 276 Ga. 359, 363-64 (2003).

The intangible value of a life includes the milestones that most of us get the opportunity to experience – such as forming lifelong friendships, falling in love, graduating from high school, earning a first paycheck, asking or being asked for marriage, having children, being promoted, watching children grow up, having grandchildren, and enjoying retirement.

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