Losing a loved one can be an earth-shattering experience. However, if someone else is to blame for your loss, you may have legal options available to you. Specifically, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation from whoever caused your loved one’s death.
Life is hard enough right now. Let the experienced Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at Hasner Law handle your legal claim. We offer a free consultation, so call our law offices to schedule yours today.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death matters are civil, rather than criminal in nature. They are applicable when a parent, spouse, or child dies as a result of someone’s negligence or recklessness. Family members would also have grounds to sue for wrongful death due to a person’s intentional conduct.
These cases are complex, and there are several factors the court considers in determining how much financial compensation to award the relatives of a deceased victim. For that reason, it’s important to have a qualified Atlanta personal injury lawyer on your side.
Types of Wrongful Death Claims
In the state of Georgia, wrongful death cases are typically divided into three types of claims.
Homicide or Manslaughter
The first involves criminal homicide or manslaughter. Note that you may be able to win a lawsuit against someone for wrongful death on these grounds, even if the criminal charges were ultimately dropped. This is because there is a lower burden of proof in civil cases.
Specifically, civil cases only require you to show that the person more likely than not committed the act. By contrast, criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that there could be no other rational explanation for the facts presented other than the defendant committed the crime in question.
Wrongful death claims can also be based on someone’s negligence, such as a fatal car accident. In this case, you would need to show that the person failed to act reasonably under the circumstances. Then, you would need to establish that the failure to act reasonably caused your loved one’s death. An example would be if a driver ran a red light which led to a fatal car crash.
The final type of wrongful death claim is based on a defective product. An example would be if a car engine was assembled incorrectly causing the vehicle to explode. In this case, you might have a claim against the automobile manufacturer.
We Handle All Wrongful Death Cases in Atlanta
At Hasner Law, our skilled attorneys are always here to help you when you need us most. We represent clients in all wrongful death matters, including those involving:
- Car accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Truck accidents
- Dog bites
- Premises liability
- Medical malpractice
- Workplace accidents, and more.
If a loved one has died on the job in Atlanta, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Give our Atlanta law firm a call to discuss your case in greater detail today.
Who is Eligible to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
It’s important to note that not everyone can bring a wrongful death action in Georgia. Instead, by law, the relationship between you and the victim must be close to qualify. Specifically, only surviving spouses, children of the victim, and parents of the victim can file a claim. This means that you can’t sue for the wrongful death of a friend or cousin, for example.
Keep in mind that the parents of a child can only recover in a wrongful death suit if the child was not married and did not have any children. Further, the parents jointly have the right to bring the claim. If one parent is deceased, the surviving parent may bring the action.
The matter becomes more complicated if the parents are divorced. One parent may file the action, but the other parent may choose to join in on the lawsuit. These cases can be highly complex, so it can be helpful to speak with a personal injury attorney.
Note that children can generally recover for a parent’s wrongful death. This includes children born out of wedlock as well as children that are minors and adults. In cases where there are no surviving children, parents, or spouse, then the executor of the victim’s estate may bring the claim.
Dividing Damages in a Georgia Wrongful Death Case
Apportioning damages can get complicated in a wrongful death case. Generally, money awarded in a lawsuit is split among eligible family members. This is done according to what the victim put in his or her will. If there was no will at the time of death, Georgia law specifies how the damages are to be divided.
One-Third to Parents, Two-Thirds to Children
Specifically, if there is no will, the spouse is entitled to one-third of the damage award. The remaining two-thirds is then split among the children equally.
Parents Split Damages Equally
If the suit was brought by the parents, meaning there is no spouse or surviving children, the parents split the damages equally. It’s important to note that parents share in these awards, even if they are divorced and one parent did not want to file the claim.
Now, if one parent can’t be found, the payment to that parent may be held by the court for up to two years. This gives that parent a window in order to collect. After this period has elapsed, the money goes to the other parent.
Special Rules for Children
Special rules apply when children are splitting an award equally. If a child predeceases the victim, the amounts would then go to his or her children (i.e., the victim’s grandchildren) and be divided equally. If the child has no children, the amounts would be divided equally among the victim’s remaining children.
If a child is a minor, their share goes to the parent or guardian of the child. Bear in mind that the money must be used to benefit the child. Any amounts remaining when the child turns 18 must be paid to the child.
It’s important to note that a victim can’t keep a spouse from receiving amounts from a wrongful death action. This is true even if the victim had a validly executed will. In other words, a spouse is entitled to at least one-third of the damages even if the will specifies less. However, children can be written out of a will in Georgia, meaning they could collect nothing in a wrongful death suit.
Calculating Wrongful Death Damages
Calculating damages in a wrongful death action takes into account several factors. The formula tries to put a dollar amount on the victim’s “full value of life.” Here, the court would look at anything the victim would have contributed during his or her lifetime without deducting living expenses.
This would include compensation that represents potential lost wages that would have been earned during the victim’s life. It would also take into account work-related benefits, such as pensions, investment returns, etc. The court would also factor in potential bonuses and promotions that would likely be received during the life of the deceased.
Note that lost income is available even if the victim was unemployed at the time of death. The court would look at his or her work history, education, age, health, and other factors to come up with an estimate. Keep in mind that this number will be discounted for present value. This is because money received today has a higher value than money paid out at a later date or over time.
If the victim was a child, lost income would be based on general statistics and trends regarding how much he or she could have earned. In addition, there are also intangible benefits that the court can place a monetary value on. These include things such as:
- Loss of companionship
- Assistance around the house, and
- Parental guidance.
This can be important in cases where the victim was a stay-at-home parent.
Compensation is also available for financial losses related to the person’s death. This would include:
- Funeral/burial expenses
- Medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury and before the victim passed away, and
- Conscious pain and suffering endured before death.
However, punitive damages, which serve to punish the defendant, are generally not allowed in wrongful death lawsuits.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into a wrongful death damages calculation. In fact, there can be significant disagreement over these numbers and experts are typically called in to offer opinions. But, these calculations are very important and form the basis for negotiating settlements.
Time Limit for Wrongful Death Claims
There is a 2-year time limit for filing wrongful death claims in Georgia. This is referred to as the statute of limitations, and the clock starts the day the person dies, rather than the date of the accident that caused the injury.
However, there are some exceptions to the statute of limitations rule. In these cases, a court might decide to “toll” or extend the deadline, which gives you more time to file. For example, if there is an ongoing criminal case arising out of the incident, the court may pause the clock until the case is over. However, courts rarely do this automatically. In most cases you must file a request to toll the statute.
Another exception to the 2-year deadline applies if the victim’s estate has not yet been probated. This would result in the deadline being extended up to 5 years, which would increase your window to file up to 7 years from the date of death.
Failure to file within the statute of limitations period can completely prevent you from bringing your claim. This is true even if your case is very strong. But, there are other reasons to avoid delay in wrongful death actions. As time goes on, witnesses and evidence become harder to track down, which can reduce your likelihood of success.
Call Our Atlanta Wrongful Death Attorneys Today
Wrongful death cases can be complicated and involve a lot of parties. For that reason, you’ll want to have an Atlanta wrongful death lawyer on your side who can negotiate with insurance companies and take your case to trial if necessary.
We will investigate your case and determine the best course of action. Reach out to our law firm today for a free consultation.