A wrongful death in Georgia is a death caused by the wrongful or negligent conduct of another person or company, and can also include any reckless or intentional act. Typical incidents leading to wrongful death claims are car accidents, drownings, assaults, shootings, medical malpractice, and workplace accidents.
For you to bring a wrongful death action, you must be a surviving family member, such as the surviving spouse, parent, or child of the decedent. If a parent died, the claimants are the surviving spouse and children, and any recovery must be shared equally among them.
If the decedent had no spouse or surviving children, then the decedent’s parents may sue. Should the parents be divorced or living apart, the court has the authority and discretion to divide a recovery between them based on certain factors such as the degree of contact between the parent and decedent child. If you are a sibling of the decedent and there is no surviving spouse and no surviving children or parents, you can bring a claim, but it must be brought by the administrator of the decedent’s estate.
For any wrongful death claim, you must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of death, although there are circumstances in which the statute of limitations—or deadline—for filing is tolled, such as when a claimant is a minor or is mentally incapacitated. The time limit is also different if a municipality or the state of Georgia is a defendant.
Georgia law permits claimants to compensation for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” This can include the decedent’s potential earnings over their working life, or the value of their services, reduced to present cash value; and subjective or intangible losses like love, society, counsel, and affection. A jury is directed to look at the life of the decedent and what he or she lost. For example, a musician or other gifted decedent may not have been a high wage earner, but may have displayed such an enjoyment of life that a jury could place an exceptional value on it.
Punitive damages can be awarded if the responsible party’s conduct was especially egregious, or characterized by willful misconduct, wantonness, malice, fraud or a high degree of carelessness. A death caused by a drunk driver is one possible example.
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