Few people think about their rights when it comes to commercial trucks until they come face to face with one as the cause of a wrongful death of a family member or loved one in Georgia. Many times, Georgians who are impacted and must now deal with the loss of a loved one are unaware of what their legal recourse is and what laws come into play as they figure out what the next steps are for themselves and their family. It can make all the difference in the world if a family speaks with a skilled Atlanta truck accident lawyer GA residents trust. Below, we’ll detail a few of Georgia’s laws that govern wrongful death, standards of negligence, and how you can recover for wrongful death.
What is wrongful death in Georgia?
Title 51, Chapter 4 of the Georgia Code governs wrongful death in the state of Georgia including who can bring suit and how long they have from the incident occurring to do so in order to recover damages. When an individual in Georgia dies as a result of a commercial trucking crash, that person’s surviving spouse or children can bring an action for wrongful death in Georgia courts which, if successful, will be divided between the spouse and children according to O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2. For example, if there is a successful recovery on behalf of a family consisting of a mother and five adult children, the mother is guaranteed a third of the recovery and the remaining two thirds will be divided among her five children.
According to the same statute, a spouse will not receive less than one third of the recovery no matter how many children there are in addition to the spouse.
Even if the individual who passed away was in debt or had liabilities, O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2, protects the recovery by the spouse and children from being used to satisfy those debts so no other creditor can “steal” your recovery. For example, if an individual owed many thousands of dollars to Visa, Mastercard, and others and the family receives a $10 million recovery, none of those creditors to whom money was owed by the individual only is able to recoup the debt and is not able to sue based on the recovery. That is for the wrongful death. There is a separate action that the “Estate” can be bring. And the Estate can be sued by debtors. That means it is very important a family speak with a skilled Atlanta truck accident lawyer GA Residents trust who understands the differences between the wrongful death claim and the estate claim.
What constitutes negligence in Georgia?
In Georgia, there are several levels of negligence: slight negligence, ordinary negligence, and gross negligence. Slight negligence, accompanied by extraordinary diligence, is governed by O.C.G.A. § 51-1-3 which is the absence of extreme caution and care in protecting property. Ordinary negligence is more commonplace and is accompanied by ordinary diligence under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2 which is the amount of care an ordinary person would use. Gross negligence, linked to slight diligence, is defined under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-4 is defined as not even taking the care that an inattentive person would. The reality is that it usually doesn’t matter what level of negligence it was that caused the wreck. If the truck driver was negligent, they will be found liable. What matters more is in situations of gross negligence and in those situations something called “punitive damages” may be warranted. An experienced Atlanta truck accident lawyer GA residents trust knows the differences between the varying degrees of negligence and when to plead punitive damages.
What kind of damages can I recover in a civil suit for wrongful death?
In Georgia, there are several types of damages which are recoverable in a suit for wrongful death. Direct and consequential damages are governed by O.C.G.A. § 51-12-3 defining direct damages as those following the tortious act and consequential damages are those connected to the tortious act though they may depend on other circumstances as well. For example, direct damages would be the cost of a funeral while consequential damages might be damages impacted in other ways by the wrongful death such as the inability or hindered ability to pay a mortgage. However, in proving the amount of money sought for damages, O.C.G.A. § 51-12-2 governs general and special damages mandating that general damages can be claimed without providing a specific amount while special damages must be proved in order for a valid recovery. General damages could be left to the jury to make the determination of the amount of lost income as the result of a person’s wrongful death while special damages would be asking the jury to award $5 million for lost income.
What if I already have life insurance and other resources available to me? Can I still sue?
Yes. In Georgia, you are able to sue for wrongful death no matter the resources available to you. Under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-1, it is up to the trier of fact – the jury – to weigh the evidence and give an award. For example, if a wife sues a trucking company for the wrongful death of her surgeon husband who already had a valid $100 million life insurance policy, the jury cannot then be directed to reduce the damages the trucking company must pay due to their driver’s negligence.
What do I do if I believe I have a wrongful death case as a result of a trucking company driver’s negligence?
You should immediately contact an attorney specializing in wrongful deaths and holding trucking companies accountable. You may be induced by an insurance company, the trucking company, or a third party to accept a settlement and waive all legal rights and claims against those who either caused the accident or are responsible in some way. Before you sign any document which impacts your legal rights, speak to a qualified and experienced Atlanta truck accident lawyer GA residents trust who can help guide you.