The only immediate certainty when you lose someone to a sudden wrongful death is that life will never again be the same.
Suing for wrongful death in Georgia won’t change that fact. However, it can save you from drowning financially. It’s also a means holding responsible parties accountable for careless, reckless or intentional actions that resulted in a death.
Understandably, some families have mixed feelings about pursuing wrongful death litigation, knowing nothing can ever bring back the person they love. However, monetary damages are often the only means within the civil justice system to penalize the at-fault party or to “make whole” those who have suffered as a result.
Types of Wrongful Death Claims in Georgia
OCGA § 51-4 is where guidelines for Georgia wrongful death lawsuits are set forth. These provisions allow for two types of claims:
- The full value of the life of the decedent as shown by the evidence (which, as outlined in the 2016 Georgia Court of Appeals ruling in Chrysler Group v. Walden, may include photos, videos and stories of loved ones). Such claims may include both economic damages (i.e., loss of decedent’s expected earnings, loss of the goods/ services decedent would have provided) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering).
- An estate claim, which per OCGA § 53-2-1 allows the victim’s family to recover for his/ her pain and suffering, medical bills prior to death, funeral expenses and more. This is also where a plaintiff could pursue punitive damages (damages intended to punish defendant, as opposed to merely compensate the plaintiff).
Your Atlanta wrongful death attorney can explain whether one or both options may be available, given the unique facts of your case.
Not All Deaths are Wrongful Deaths
An untimely death is a tragedy no matter what the cause. However, to be deemed actionable, it must be the result of either/ or:
- Negligence. This is a failure to use reasonable care when one has a duty to do so.
- Intentional Acts. This is when a violent crime or extreme recklessness results in someone’s death.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 147,000 unintentional injury deaths annually. Not all are legally actionable, but the CDC identifies the top causes of death as:
- Motor vehicle traffic accidents;
- Falls; and,
Motor vehicle accidents are almost always the result of driver error and negligence of one or more motorists or sometimes vehicle manufacturer. It’s fair to say most Georgia wrongful death lawsuits stem from car accidents. Falls can be actionable if an individual or organization owed a duty of care to provide a safe environment or supervision (i.e., nursing homes, hospitals, construction sites, etc.). Similarly, homicides can be actionable in the civil justice system, either directly against the individual who caused intentional harm and/ or against an organization or business that breached a duty of care to protect the victim from the risk of foreseeable harm (often the basis of negligent security).
Your Georgia wrongful death lawyer should carefully examine all relevant facts in the case to ascertain whether strong evidence exists the death was due to negligence or an intentional act.
Who is Permitted to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In Georgia, only specified individuals can pursue a wrongful death claim – and there is a statutory hierarchy that gives greater preference to certain individuals. Those are:
- Husband/ wife/ surviving spouse
- Other heir or next-of-kin (as designated by will or Georgia probate statutes)
A family wrongful death claim can be extremely complex – from proving causation and establishing negligence to arguing for a full and fair damage award. Our dedicated, responsive team is prepared to fight for you.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta wrongful death attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.