How much is a life “worth”? Most of us would say that it is priceless…especially for those who have lost someone in an accident, often called “wrongful death” in legal terms.
A car strikes and kills a motorcycle rider, a gas tank explosion takes the life of a child, a tractor-trailer accident claims the life of an innocent bystander, a construction site accident results in a pedestrian fatality – all are examples of what Georgia law terms a “wrongful death.”
How Georgia Law Values a Life
O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1, Georgia’s Wrongful Death statute, says that the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence” should be viewed through the eyes of the deceased and determined by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury.
Under Georgia law, determining the “value of a life” consists of two parts: the economic value, which includes the loss of future earnings, and the intangible value.
The Economic Value of the Deceased Person
The first part of the statute, the economic value, can be determined more easily, given:
- The age of the person
- Their surviving family members
- Their occupation at the time of their death
- The amount of money they contributed to the family
These variables assist in making financial projections for this portion of the case’s value.
The Non-economic Value of the Deceased Person
It is the second part of the law that makes the full value of a wrongful death claim so difficult to determine.
Juries often wrestle with intangible damages when deciding what amount to award. They consider:
- The child who will never be able to play with their parent
- The grandfather who will not be able to enjoy his retirement
- The young mother who will never see her minor children grow up, get married, and have children of their own
Georgia’s law has been praised for its unique approach to wrongful death lawsuits by including not only the financial implications, but also taking into account the relationships and experiences that truly “make a life.”
By leaving the final decision to an informed jury and a reasonable judge, who has the power to adjust the settlement if necessary, the citizens of Georgia can feel some comfort in knowing that their loved ones’ life really does matter. Every life has value, and every life matters to the loved ones left behind.
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Other Wrongful Death Damages
In addition to the economic and non-economic value of the lost life, Georgia law allows wrongful death survivors to sue based on accident-related bills and grief.
Bills Stemming From Wrongful Deaths
Accident-related bills may include any expense that you or your deceased loved one incurred because of the event that led to the wrongful death. The most common example is probably medical bills, including whatever money went to giving your loved one:
- Immediate emergency care
- Long-term palliative care
- Pain relief
- Assistive devices and home renovation, if they were permanently disabled during their final days
If your loved one recovered such damages prior to their death, you may not be eligible to sue for them. If, however, your loved one did not file a lawsuit on their own behalf, you can seek such damages now. This is in addition to funeral expenses, such as the cost of:
- A coffin or cremation
- A funeral service
- Settling the deceased person’s estate
Wrongful Deaths and Grief
Your loved one is not the only one who has suffered from their death. You and their other surviving relatives have had to cope with the emotional pain of grief, bereavement, and the loss of their companionship. These factors can also influence how much you recover in wrongful death damages.
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
To exercise your right to sue after a wrongful death, you must do so within the statute of limitations—that is, the time limit—set by Georgia. You can find it at O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, which states that all wrongful death cases “shall be brought within two years after the right of action accrues”—in other words, from the date of death.
If you try to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit more than two years after the victim’s death, your case will probably be rejected. You will be unable to collect any compensation related to their death, nor will you be able to hold the liable party accountable for their negligent actions.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Claim Take?
Georgia’s wrongful death law places a time limit on when you can start a case, but there is no such time limit on how long your claim or lawsuit may take to settle. You could end up spending months or years seeking compensation for medical expenses, loss of companionship, and everything else you lost in the accident.
Hiring a lawyer to assist you with your wrongful death action could make the process much easier and less stressful for you. Your family is already going through such a difficult time. There is no reason why you should have to shoulder the burden of a lawsuit alone when a lawyer could:
- Identify and confront the responsible party, whether they are an individual or a large corporation
- Figure out what kinds of monetary damages you qualify for
- Answer all of your questions about how wrongful death claims work and how to approach yours
- Give you as much time as you need to grieve your loved one’s untimely death while your attorney manages your case
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Reasons for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Georgia
No matter how you lost your loved one, if you can link their death to another party’s negligence, you have the right to sue that at-fault party for compensation. Here are the four points you must prove in order to have a viable wrongful death case in Georgia:
- Duty of care: Drivers, property owners, manufacturers, and other parties all have a responsibility to go about their activities in a cautious manner, keeping in mind the safety and rights of others.
- Breach of duty: A party who is responsible for another’s well being ignores their duty. This could include a tailgating driver, a property owner who allows their property to fall into disrepair, or a manufacturer that does not recall faulty products in a timely fashion.
- Causation: The breach of duty described above contributed to the victim’s death: the tailgating driver hit them, they fell on the property owner’s premises, or they used a faulty product.
- Damages: As a result of the fatal accident, the deceased and their loved ones have suffered economic and intangible damages, as described above.
Car accidents, motorcycle accidents, defective products, construction accidents, and more can all lead to premature and wrongful death. A wrongful death lawyer can help you file a lawsuit, seek damages to cover your losses, and hold the negligent party accountable for their actions.
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Wrongful Death Attorneys in Georgia
At Kaine Law, we strive to provide the sensitive, professional representation that wrongful death survivors need and deserve during these difficult days. Call our firm today for a free case evaluation. Our entire team would be honored to put our decades of experience to work on your case.