Your rights under Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act
If you lose a loved one due to the carelessness of another person, you may wonder if you have any recourse under the law. Fortunately, in Georgia, certain family members of the deceased have the right to hold the party responsible for the death accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Although such a lawsuit cannot bring the deceased back to life, it can provide compensation that can enable family members to carry on with their lives.
What is wrongful death?
A wrongful death occurs when a person is killed by the negligent, reckless, criminal or intentional act of another person or entity (i.e. corporation or government). Wrongful death can occur when the death is caused by a variety of causes such as motor vehicle accidents, defective products, criminal acts, pedestrian accidents and medical malpractice.
Although wrongful death can occur by criminal acts, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action. As a result, the lawsuit may be filed even if there are no criminal charges filed against the party responsible. Additionally the lawsuit is separate from any criminal proceedings against the responsible party and is not affected whether he or she is convicted or acquitted of a crime.
Who may file the lawsuit?
Under Georgia law, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is limited to certain close family members of the deceased. Under the law, the right is reserved to the following family members:
- The spouse of the decedent
- If there is no spouse, the decedent’s children
- The parents of the decedent (if there are no spouse or children)
- The administrator of the decedent’s estate in all other circumstances
If any damages are recovered in the lawsuit, the person that files the lawsuit must distribute the damages to the other eligible family members according to the law. For example, if there is only a spouse, he or she is entitled to 100 percent of the damages. However, if there are also children, the spouse must share the damages equally with the children. However, in all cases, the spouse is entitled to a minimum one-third share of any damages collected.
What damages are recoverable?
Under the law, damages suffered by the surviving family members because of the death (i.e. pain and suffering) are not recoverable. Instead, Georgia courts award damages based on the “full value of the life of the decedent.” In a nutshell, the law allows the court to consider both the economic and intangible aspects of the decedent’s life when determining the amount of damages. As a result, the jury may consider the amount of income that the decedent reasonably could have earned had he or she lived, as well as the decedent’s quality of life, relationships and other intangible factors when deciding on an amount to award.