Who Has The Right To File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Or Claim For The Loss Of A Family Member In Georgia?

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William P. Langdale, III - General Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: William P. Langdale, III

Located in Valdosta, GALangdale Vallotton, LLP

Valdosta, GA
Phone: 229-808-8124
Fax: 229-244-0453

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In Georgia, when a loved one is killed by the negligence of another, there will exist a potential wrongful death claim.  The wrongful death claim is governed by our Wrongful Death Statute, which designates the beneficiaries of the claim, and who can bring the claim.  Typically, if the deceased was married, the surviving spouse has the right to bring the claim.  It the deceased had children, the surviving spouse still has the right to bring the claim, but does so on his/her behalf as well as the children.  Any recovery would be split among the spouse and the children, with the spouse receiving no less than 1/3 of the recovery.  If the deceased was not married, and had no children, the wrongful death claim may be brought by either parent or both.  Any recovery is typically split between the parents equally, but can be adjusted by the Court in situations where the parents are divorced, or were never married, and one parent has provided more for the child than the other.

Georgia is unique in how a jury determines the measure of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, as we use the value of the decedent’s life to him/her.  The measure of damages is therefore “the full value of the life of the decedent” as determined from the evidence, without any deduction for necessary or other personal expenses of the decedent, had he lived.  There is both an economic and non-economic component, that when added together, is the “full value of life.”

The economic component is simply the economic value of the decedent’s life based upon lifetime earnings.  This amount is typically determined by computing the yearly income of the decedent and multiplying it by the remaining number of years the decedent would have earned such income had he/she not died.  It is not necessary that the decedent be working and earning income at the time of his/her death.

 The non-economic component is determined by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury, taking into consideration the age of the decedent, his/her habits, his/her relationships, and all of life events which the decedent will not experience.  For instance, the decedent’s loss of society, advice, counsel, and companionship with his/her family and friends are part of this element of damages.  The jury is entitled to value all of the various milestones in life that the decedent has lost, such as graduating from school, getting married, having a child, etc.

When someone is wrongfully killed, there is also another claim which is brought by the Estate of the decedent.  This claim is brought by the personal representative of the Estate.  The Estate is entitled to recover any medical or other expenses incurred by the decedent prior to death, as well as any pre-impact fright or shock experienced by decedent prior to the event causing his/her death, as well as any pain and suffering experienced by decedent prior to death.  If the conduct of the wrongdoer is sufficiently aggravating, the Estate is also entitled to recover punitive damages.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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