One of the most tragic events that can happen in someone’s life is losing a loved one, especially when it is unexpected. This situation is hard enough to deal with when it is due to natural causes, but often it can be caused by the negligent and careless conduct of another party. When an unexpected death like this occurs, you may have legal rights to help you deal with the loss of your loved one. In many instances, this is known as a wrongful death action.
We know it is difficult to think of legal action while you are mourning. The legal term “wrongful death” is defined as a death caused by a company’s or individual’s negligent, careless or deliberate act. Examples of this include a death of a patient receiving the incorrect medication from a negligent doctor or nurse, a fatal drunk driving accident or a defective product that malfunctions and claims a life.
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act
Georgia has adopted statutes establishing a cause of action for wrongful death. It was passed more than 100 years ago and has gone though a significant number of amendments. Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act is codified in five code sections, starting at O.C.G.A. §51-4-1.
Under Georgia law, the following causes can create legal grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Intentional homicide
- Faulty construction
- Contaminated food
- Medical malpractice
- Drunk driving
- Careless/Negligent conduct
- Dangerous/Defective products
- Illegal and/or improper service of alcohol
- Dangerous medical devices
- Nursing home abuse and/or neglect
- Engineering malpractice
- Criminal and/or unlawful acts
- Unsafe prescription drugs
Who is entitled to recover for the loss of a loved one?
Under Georgia law, the spouse of the victim is entitled to file a claim of wrongful death. If there is no spouse, the decedent’s children have the right to recovery. If there is no spouse or children, the decedent’s parents are entitled to recover for wrongful death. If there is no spouse, children or living parents, the administrator of the decedent’s estate has a right to pursue a claim for wrongful death.
If a spouse pursues a claim and there is no Will, they are required to share a portion of the proceeds from any lawsuit for wrongful death with the children, according to Georgia law. Georgia law does, however, generally guarantee the spouse will receive one-third of any recovery of damages for wrongful death. If there is a minor child involved, the right to recovery is vested in the parent or legal guardian until the minor is older (generally 18 years of age).
What do entitled individuals have the right to recover?
In a Georgia wrongful death action, individuals are entitled to recover “the full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived.” This comes from O.C.G.A. §51-4-1. Also, an individual or surviving family members may be entitled to pain and suffering damages, economic losses (medical or funeral expenses) and possible punitive damages.
The full “value of life” of the deceased may include:
- Compensation for the pain and suffering of the survivors
- Loss of future wages, which may include expected raises
- Loss of inheritance for children
- Funeral expenses
- Compensation for pain and suffering decedent felt prior to passing
- Loss of love and protection of a spouse, child and/or parent
- Loss of benefits, which includes retirement benefits
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages may be sought to punish wrongdoers, if available and appropriate
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the given time period during which a legal action can be made. If the time period ends, it is a complete bar to any recovery if your case is not completely settled, or the lawsuit is not filed and served on the appropriate parties prior to this date. Generally speaking, Georgia has a statute of limitations of two years with wrongful death lawsuits. The statute begins to run on the date of death.
Get a Wrongful Death Attorney
Wrongful death cases can be complex, challenging and extremely difficult to understand. If you have experienced a tragic death of a loved one, you may want to consider contacting the experienced Georgia wrongful death lawyers at Childers, Schlueter & Smith, LLC to see how we can help. All inquires are kept strictly confidential, and initial consultations are free.