Recovery under Georgia law for fatal accidents

In today's world, just about anyone who regularly leaves his or her home can fall victim to someone else's negligence. When an accident occurs, the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover their medical bills, lost wages and other expenses. However, what are the rights of recovery when an accident kills the victim? In such circumstances, the decedent's immediate family members suffer financial losses, such as loss of income, on top of the emotional losses they experience. Fortunately, in such circumstances, compensation for many of the losses can be sought in a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is a wrongful death?

Georgia law defines wrongful death as a death caused by the negligent, reckless, criminal or intentional act of another person or entity. In their day-to-day lives, persons can encounter many situations where such a lawsuit may be appropriate such as: car and truck accidents, medical malpractice, dangerous and defective products, nursing home abuse, and criminal acts (e.g. assault or murder).

Although a criminal act may form the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit, it is not necessary for the responsible party to be charged with a crime in order to file the lawsuit, as wrongful death is a separate civil proceeding. Additionally, if criminal charges are filed, the outcome (i.e. conviction or acquittal) does not influence any pending wrongful death lawsuit.

Who may bring the lawsuit?

Georgia law limits the types of persons eligible to file and recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Under the law, the lawsuit may be filed by:

  • The spouse of the decedent
  • The children (if the decedent is not married)
  • The parents (if there is no spouse or children)
  • In all other cases, the administrator of the decedent's estate

Any compensation recovered by the lawsuit is split among all the parties to the lawsuit according to Georgia law. However, if the decedent has a spouse, he or she is entitled to recover at least one-third of the damages, regardless of the number of parties eligible to recover.

What types of compensation may be recovered?

Under Georgia law, pain and suffering and emotional losses suffered by surviving family members generally may not be recovered. The court will instead award damages based on the "full value of the decedent's life." In calculating damages, the court may consider both the tangible economic aspects of the decedent's life along with the more abstract aspects. Consequently, the decedent's quality of relationships may be factored in along with his or her present and reasonably probable future income levels when arriving at a damage award.

In addition, the estate of the decedent may file a separate lawsuit called a survivorship action. This lawsuit seeks the recovery of the estate's losses caused by the death such as: the decedent's medical bills, pain and suffering experienced before death, and funeral and burial expenses. All damages recovered in the survivorship action belong to the estate. Ultimately, the survivor action compensation is distributed to the decedent's heirs according to the terms of the will or by Georgia law, if the decedent not have a will.

Consult an attorney

Wrongful death lawsuits often involve complicated issues of proof. As a result, it can be an uphill fight to recover damages. However, an experienced attorney can level the playing field. The personal injury attorneys at Bird Law Group have significant experience helping family members of negligence victims get the compensation they deserve. They can work with established experts to prove negligence and maximize the likelihood of successful recovery.

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