When Negligence Leads to Wrongful Death: Recovering the Loss of a Loved One in Georgia

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When Negligence Leads to Wrongful Death: Recovering the Loss of a Loved One in Georgia

When negligence leads to wrongful death in Georgia, representatives of the person who died can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the tortfeasor(s) (persons alleged to be responsible) to collect damages for things like lost wages, pain and suffering, funeral expenses and loss of emotional support.

The crux of “liability” – or another person’s obligation to pay – is “fault.” You cannot compel another to cover losses related to a death, even a sudden one, if you cannot show the defendant was at-fault.

The Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at Apolinksy & Associates can help you examine the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death and determine if there are grounds upon which to bring a timely wrongful death claim. We recognize that no amount of money or compensation is going to make up for the sudden, traumatic loss of a loved one because of another person’s negligent or malicious act. However, prevailing in a Georgia wrongful death claim can be an opportunity for accountability, answers and the chance to start again.

Who Can Recover in Georgia Wrongful Death Claim

There are two types of claims one can bring when negligence leads to wrongful death in Georgia. They are: Wrongful Death Actions and Survival Actions.

In a wrongful death action, the purpose is to compensate surviving dependents/relatives for the full value of the life of the deceased. This includes monetary compensation for both tangible/intangible financial value of the decedent’s life. This would be things like lost wages and employee benefits and the loss of care, companionship and support the person would have provided but for his/her untimely death.

OGCA § 51-4-2 indicates only certain individuals are entitled to bring action for wrongful death of a spouse or parent, and the right goes in descending order. Those include:

  • Surviving spouse of decedent.
  • Surviving child/children of decedent.
  • If there is no surviving spouse or child, OCGA § 19-7-1 allows the parent or parents of the child the right to pursue damages. If parents are divorced/separated, division of any verdicts or settlements will be up to the court’s discretion.
  • In the absence of a surviving spouse, child or parent, the administrator of decedent’s estate has the right to sue on behalf of next-of-kin (i.e., sibling, grandparent, niece/nephew, etc.).

The second type of claim filed for negligence leading to wrongful death in Georgia is known as a survival action, claims are filed by the administrator or executor of the estate on behalf of decedent to recover damages on behalf of decedent. Such damages would include things like medical expenses incurred prior to death, pain and suffering prior to death and funeral expenses. One may also be entitled to recover for mental anguish if one had enough time to realize he/she was about to die from the unexpected trauma. Accident reconstruction and physician insight can be valuable expert witness testimony to have for that type of claim.

One cannot pursue punitive damages (as outlined in OCGA § 51-12-5.1) in a wrongful death action, but may do so in a survival action. Favorable verdicts or settlements in a survival action may be subject to medical liens, while those in a wrongful death action are not.

Top Causes of Wrongful Death in Georgia

Unintentional injuries are the No. 1 cause of death for Georgians between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The top causes of wrongful death from unintentional injury in Georgia includes:

  • Motor vehicle crashes. Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of injury death in Georgia, accounting for nearly one-third of all injury deaths and nearly 45 percent of all unintentional injury deaths among Georgians. Nearly 1,360 Georgians die in motor vehicle crashes every single year, with statistics skewed heavily young and male. Many fatal motor vehicle crashes are the direct result of negligence by at least one or more driver, and sometimes the vehicle owner and/or driver’s employer can be held responsible in a wrongful death case too.
  • Falls. An average of nearly 400 Georgians a year die in fall-related accidents, with persons over the age of 65 accounting for 75 percent of these. (In our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys’ experience, these cases often tend to occur in a nursing home/long-term care setting as a result of nursing home neglect.) A fair number of case also result from occupational injuries, in which case we’d want to explore the possibility of workers’ compensation death benefits, per OCGA § 34-9-265.This allows up to $7,500 in burial expenses and dependents receive support based on weekly compensation for up to 400 weeks/$150,000. Fatal workplace falls resulting from an intentional act of employer with specific intent to cause injury will result in a 20 percent penalty of up to $20,000.
  • Drownings. Roughly 120 people in Georgia drown each year, nearly 40 percent of those being children under 5. There are also roughly 65 near-drowning incidents per year, each resulting in an average of 400 days in the hospital and nearly $1.3 million in hospital charges.

Although personal injury and wrongful death damages may overlap, double recovery is not permitted. This was underscored recently in 2018 by the Georgia Supreme Court in Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc.

In most cases, you have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death case in Georgia. There may be some instances wherein notice must be filed sooner, so it’s imperative to discuss your legal options with an Atlanta wrongful death attorney as soon as possible – even if you aren’t 100 percent certain you have a case. We can help you determine if you do, and if so, the best course of action to proceed.

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 steve@aa-legal.com.