Understanding who can file and when — as well as what damages are possible
The loss of a loved one is a true tragedy for anyone to experience. If you lost a family member due to an accident or the criminal actions of another, it may be even tougher for you to emotionally handle. The state of Georgia allows you to seek comfort and financial support through wrongful death lawsuits. These cases often award a victim’s family a significant amount of damages, and it’s encouraged that you speak with a Georgia wrongful death attorney to assist you during this difficult time.
Who may file a wrongful death claim?
Though many suffer from the loss of a loved one, Georgia law provides a hierarchy of family members eligible to file a wrongful death claim. The order for eligibility is:
2. If there’s no spouse, the victim’s children are next in line.
3. If there are no children, the victim’s parents may file the lawsuit.
4. If the parents are no longer alive, the executor of the estate may file the lawsuit.
It’s worth mentioning that if the victim has a spouse and children, the spouse will file the wrongful death lawsuit, but will share the damages with the children. Typically, the spouse gets to keep at least one third of the damages. If, however, the victim had a will that didn’t award anything to their children, the spouse would keep the full compensation.
In the tragic event that a child’s life is lost, the parents, adoptive parents and/or guardian may file a wrongful death claim. (Here, “child” refers to any minor under the age of 18.) Georgia law §19-7-1 (c)(2) explains that each parent with the appropriate relation to the child may receive a portion of wrongful death damages. If the parents are divorced or separated, one parent may file the lawsuit but is expected to share the damages with the other parent.
What are the damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuits?
In Georgia, wrongful death cases award several different categories of damages to the family of the deceased. The 3 main categories are:
1. “Full value of life” damages
“Full value of life” damages try to do the impossible. These damages place a monetary value on the life of the deceased. This amount is extremely subjective, and the jury panel assigns damages that they deem fair. The damages are broken down into 2 categories:
The economic component to these damages pertains to the “earnings capacity” for the victim. In the case of a working adult, this total is fairly easy to calculate. These damages would take into account the victim’s salary, benefits, pension, how much time left in the workforce, and other factors.
In other cases, such as the death of a stay-at-home parent, a child, an unemployed victim or a senior citizen, this total is trickier to calculate. Nevertheless, the state of Georgia still believes in assigning a value to this person’s life. Each individual case is handled differently and evidence such opinion testimonies and expert witnesses are analyzed in order to give the best possible total.
The non-economic component of these damages is more subjective than the other. These damages take into consideration that your loved one’s life was cut short. Whether a victim was 5 or 50 when they passed, your loved one is missing the opportunity for happy and meaningful memories with their family. These damages aren’t limited by the state of Georgia, with the exception of medical malpractice claims. Instead, the jury is encouraged to award the damages they believe is fair to the victim’s family based on an “enlightened conscience”.
As the name suggests, these damages assist with any bills that directly pertain to the health care and funeral of the deceased. Related damages can be a broad terms, so it’s best for you to keep a list of your expenses and present the list to your attorney in order for them to assess what can be recovered via damages.
3. Punitive damages
Punitive damages are arguably the rarest form of damages awarded in any civil case. These damages are assigned by a judge in order to punish the defendant. Because the actions of the defendant led to the death of your loved one, however, it’s quite possible for you and your family to receive punitive damages. Punitive damages are most common for DUI cases and any other case where the defendant intentionally harmed the deceased.
Georgia’s statute of limitations for wrongful death cases
Unlike many other lawsuits, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim varies significantly. Below are some guidelines:
If the victim died in an accident, you typically have 2 years to file the wrongful death lawsuit.
If the victim died as a result of an act where the other party is facing criminal charges, you have 2 years from the end of the criminal proceedings to file a claim. These cases are when your loved one died as a result of a murder, a fight, a robbery or any other circumstance where the defendant was arrested. You have 2 years from when the charges were dropped, the defendant took a plea, or after the trial ended in order to file for wrongful death damages.
If the victim died as a result of an accident involving the government, you have as little as 6 months to file a claim. Whenever there’s an accident involving the government, different rules apply than other civil lawsuits. Examples of these circumstances include if a loved one was killed in a car crash with a bus, garbage truck, ambulance or other government vehicle. You have to file a specific set of paperwork to let the responsible section of the government know that a lawsuit has been filed, and the time frame depends if you’re dealing with the city, state or federal employees.
No matter your specific circumstances, it’s strongly encouraged that you consult with a wrongful death attorney as soon as you’re emotionally prepared to do so. You don’t want a simple mistake to prevent you from receiving the proper financial compensation for your loss.
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