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Georgia Wrongful Death Statute

Georgia Wrongful Death Statute

Last Updated on December 13, 2022 by Theodore Spaulding

A wrongful death claim addresses the loss of a family member to someone else’s negligence – or worse – and they are some of the most legally and emotionally challenging civil cases. No form of legal compensation can ever return your loved one to you, but a wrongful death claim may provide you with the resources necessary to remain on the path toward recovery.

If you are in the very difficult position of having lost a loved one to someone else’s wrongdoing, consult with an experienced Georgia wrongful death attorney today.

 

Wrongful Death: The Basics

Wrongful death claims are exceptionally complex, but better understanding the basics can help you better understand your own case. 

The Person Who Files

In Georgia, if the person who lost their life (the decedent) has a surviving spouse, it is their right to bring a wrongful death claim for the full value of their lost spouse’s life. If the decedent has no surviving spouse, this right goes to their surviving children or parents – in that order. 

If both a spouse and children are left behind, the surviving spouse must bring the wrongful death claim as the children’s representative. The spouse, however, is entitled to no less than one-third of the overall recovery – regardless of how many children are involved. If the decedent has no spouse, any compensation awarded is divided equally between all the surviving children, and if one or more of the decedent’s children are no longer living, those children’s children – the decedent’s grandchildren – are in line to receive their deceased parent’s share of the recovery. 

The Statute of Limitations

There is a limit on the amount of time family members have to file a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one to another party’s negligence, and this statute of limitations is two years in the State of Georgia. This means that you have two years from the date that your family member succumbed to their fatal injuries – not from the date of the accident that caused their injuries, if they are different dates.

The Full Value of the Decedent’s Life

In Georgia, wrongful death claims afford recovery for what the state terms the full value of the decedent’s life, which means the value of the decedent’s life from the decedent’s perspective. This value breaks down into two basic parts that include:

  • Tangible value, which includes the amount the decedent would have earned and the value of the jobs around the house they would have performed had they lived 
  • Intangible value, which includes the decedent’s relationships with loved ones and their overarching reasons for living

Often, family members also bring claims on behalf of their lost loved one’s estate for the losses the decedent experiences post-accident and prior to death, including:

  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income

The decedent’s funeral and burial expenses can also be addressed in this category.

When a Crime Is Involved

The wrongful act that leads to the wrongful death claim can be a matter of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, but it can also be a matter of someone else’s criminal act. If your loved one was killed by a violent crime or traffic violation, for example, the statute of limitations may be temporarily halted – or tolled – while the criminal case is pending. 

The crime in question does not have to involve criminal intent in order for tolling to apply. In other words, even if your loved one was fatally injured in a car accident in which the at-fault motorist could have faced a criminal charge or traffic violation, the statute of violation can be paused from the accident date to the time the charge is finalized, or for six years, whichever is shorter. At this point, the two-year statute of limitations comes into play. 

The Wrongful Death Claim vs. the Estate Claim

Most states require a representative of the decedent’s estate to bring the wrongful death claim, but because Georgia distinguishes between wrongful death and estate claims, this isn’t the case in the State of Georgia. The surviving spouse of the decedent – or the next person in line to bring the wrongful death claim if there is no surviving spouse – files the wrongful death claim, and the administrator of the decedent’s estate files the estate claim, which covers the estate’s expenses, such as medical bills incurred prior to death.

Often, however, the surviving spouse, child, or parent is also the named administrator, which generally means they do both. When the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, or parents, their estate’s administrator – who can be appointed by the court if one is not named in the decedent’s will – can file both the estate claim and the wrongful death claim, and the recovery amount is then distributed in accordance with Georgia’s laws of inheritance. 

When Claimants Work in Unison

Sometimes, surviving family members are not in agreement regarding a wrongful death claim for any number of reasons. In these situations, the best path forward is finding a wrongful death attorney whom all parties trust and are willing to work with. If this isn’t a possibility, the parties can hire their own seasoned wrongful death attorneys, but failing to agree on the basics, such as the percentage of the recovery that each is entitled to, can seriously undermine the effectiveness of the wrongful death claim. 

Damages Sought

In wrongful death cases in Georgia, damages are valued from the decedent’s perspective. As such, the jury hearing the case is tasked with assessing the value the decedent placed on their own life. Toward this end, your skilled wrongful death attorney will help the jury learn more about your lost loved one – and what it is that gave their life special meaning. This is often achieved with evidence in the following forms:

  • Photographs
  • Videos
  • Stories told by friends, family members, and other loved ones

Ultimately, the value of the decedent’s life must be calculated in accordance with the enlightened conscience of the jury. 

The estate claim addresses those additional losses the decedent experienced prior to death but as a result of the accident, including pain and suffering, the inherent terror involved, lost wages, medical bills, and funeral expenses.

 

The Amount of Time Involved

There are an array of factors to consider when it comes to how long it will take to resolve your wrongful death claim. 

Family Matters 

Some families are all on the same page when it comes to filing a wrongful death claim and some are decidedly not. The farther apart you and your family members are regarding your claim, the longer you can expect it to drag on. A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney can help you resolve any lingering disagreements between yourselves and move forward with greater focus, but if a survivor who is entitled to recovering decides to complicate the matter, considerable delays are likely. 

The Probate Court

If your wrongful death case does go to trial – instead of settling with the involved insurance provider – it will be at the mercy of the probate court’s docket in terms of how swiftly it can be tried. Courts throughout the State of Georgia – and the nation – are generally very busy, which means that you might have to wait a considerable amount of time to move your case through the legal system. 

The At-Fault Party

If the at-fault party is a powerful corporation or they have a powerful insurance company handling the claim, it can make a significant difference in how long your case will take. Consider the following:

  • Large, powerful companies with deep pockets sometimes want to make their aggressive stance clear, and as a result, they set the stage for long, drawn-out battles. 
  • These same companies sometimes want to resolve particularly egregious cases as swiftly as possible – in their focused efforts to do damage control. 
  • If the at-fault party had very limited coverage, such as the minimum liability coverage for motorists in Georgia – $25,000 – the insurance company may want to resolve the matter as swiftly as possible since there is no risk of the damages exceeding this amount. 

Some companies – like many car manufacturers – are invested in fighting to the bitter end regardless of how clear-cut the case is, while others experience genuine remorse and are interested in righting their wrongs promptly. A wide range of factors can play into this equation, but your savvy wrongful death attorney will help you better understand how your claim is likely to play out and will help you make the right decisions for you moving forward. 

The Family’s Objective

Sometimes, the family members of a lost loved one are more interested in making an important point than they are in being compensated for their immense loss. For example, if you believe your loved one died as a result of something more nefarious, deliberate, or systemic than simple negligence, you may be motivated to see your case all the way through to a trial. 

If, on the other hand, your loved one lost their life as a result of someone else’s careless act that was not something the at-fault party made a practice of, wrapping up your claim more quickly may be your goal. How a family finds closure, even if this closure simply means continuing to move forward, is unique to the family in question, which means that you’ll need to be in touch with what you hope to accomplish with your wrongful death claim.

 

FAQs

If you have lost a loved one to someone else’s wrongdoing, you almost certainly have a long list of questions, and the answers to some of those asked most frequently by others in your difficult position can help. 

How do I know if I have a wrongful death claim?

If another person or entity – without legal justification – causes your loved one to die, it’s a wrongful death. Wrongful death claims are typically based on negligence, carelessness, or recklessness, but they can also be based on criminal acts that are predicated on intent. The most important step when it comes to determining if your loss of a loved one amounts to a wrongful death claim is discussing the matter with a dedicated wrongful death attorney.

How long do I have to file my wrongful death case?

Generally, you have two years from the date your loved one lost their life to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Who can file the wrongful death case?

The matter of who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia is determined by who survives the decedent. 

A Surviving Spouse

If the decedent was married at the time of the fatal accident, their surviving spouse is entitled to file the wrongful death claim. If the decedent had children, the spouse must bring the case on behalf of them as well. A decedent’s children are authorized to file a wrongful death case if the surviving spouse does not or if the surviving spouse is responsible for the decedent’s death. 

Surviving Children with no Surviving Spouse

If the decedent has no surviving spouse, any of their children are authorized to file the wrongful death case. 

No Surviving Spouse or Children

If the victim in question has neither a surviving spouse nor surviving children, their parents can file the case. If both parents are alive, either parent – or both of them together – can file the wrongful death case, and barring specific circumstances, both must share the recovery equally. 

No Survivors

If the decedent has none of the above-listed survivors, the administrator of their estate can file the claim on behalf of the victim’s next of kin, who will benefit in accordance with Georgia’s inheritance laws.

 

Turn to an Experienced Georgia Wrongful Death Attorney for the Help You Need

If you’ve lost a loved one to the negligence of another person or entity, the formidable Georgia wrongful death attorneys at Spaulding Injury Law have the experience, legal skill, and drive to help guide your case toward a favorable resolution that allows you and your family to move forward on the path toward recovery. Your case is important, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at 770-744-0890 and schedule your free case evaluation today.