Georgia’s wrongful death statute explained
Every life has value, and Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act ensures that the civil justice system protects those left behind. When another party’s actions result in the death of a loved one, the Georgia Wrongful Death Act establishes that the family, or estate, can claim “the full value of the life of the decedent.” O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1.
No one wants to think about a monetary value being placed on the life of someone you love, but tragedies do happen. Making sure that compensation is paid to the surviving family members can remove the burden financial concerns arising from the loss of income of the deceased and provide the family with money to cover the costs of final expenses. Most importantly, for many, is that it holds the person or company that caused the death of a loved one responsible.
Tobin Injury Law has extensive experience in wrongful death claims, but more importantly, we genuinely care about our clients and their loss. We know that it can feel wrong to use words like “compensation,” as though money can restore what was taken from you. Your loved one will be more than figures on a page to us, and we will do our best to honor them as evaluate and move forward with your case.
What is the Statute of Limitations on a Wrongful Death Claim
A statute of limitations is the time limit that surviving family members have to bring a wrongful death case to court. The statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim in Georgia is usually two years from the date the person’s death. If an accident left a family member injured but survived six-months after the accident, it is the date of death that starts the clock on the statute of limitations.
There are a few limited exceptions to the statute of limitations. If the wrongful death occurred as a result of a government entity, there is a one-year statute of limitations. The court can also, at its discretion, chose to “toll” the statute of limitations if the wrongful death was the result of someone’s criminal actions and a criminal case is ongoing. In that circumstance, the civil court may agree to toll the statute of limitations until the criminal proceedings are over.
If the deceased person’s estate did not go through probate, Georgia law provides a five-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.
In most cases, failing to bring a wrongful death claim within the two-year timeframe will nullify your right to pursue a civil action against the person or entity responsible for the death of your loved one. Grieving families do not want to think about lawsuits, but it is essential to reach out to a personal injury lawyer with experience in wrongful death cases if you think you have grounds for a wrongful death claim.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim is created by O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2(a), which defines who is entitled to bring a wrongful death suit. The statute sets forth that the claim can be made for the “full value of the life of a decedent.” Case law (Brock v. Wendicamp, 253 Ga. App. 275, 281 (2002)) had determined that there are two parts to determining the value of a life.
The intangible component of a wrongful death claim references the parts of life of which we cannot assign a monetary value. No amount of monetary compensation can replace time spent with family and friends, loving your spouse, school plays, college graduations, and holidays where there will always be someone missing.
Determining the tangible value of a life is a bit easier to turn into factual data. In simple terms, it is determining the economic value of the things the deceased person did. Calculating tangible value involves using the projected amount of income the decedent would have earned throughout their life, as well as the economic value of the contribution they made to the family. Cleaning the house, maintaining the lawn, driving the children to school, and fixing the leaky plumbing under the sink are all tangible contributions for which a dollar amount can be assigned.
If you still have questions about what a wrongful death claim is and who can bring a claim, please visit Georgia Wrongful Death Law F.A.Q.
What is an Estate Claim
Estate claims, under Georgia law, are a bit easier to understand. In an estate claim, the estate itself attempts to recover expenses such as medical bills associated with the event that resulted in the decedent’s death, funeral and burial costs.
The estate can also pursue damages for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent. If someone died instantly, it is unlikely the estate would recoup for pain and suffering. However, if they lingered for a week before succumbing to their injuries, pain and suffering could be awarded. (O.C.G.A. § 9-2-41)
Georgia case law has also determined that even if the decedent lived a few seconds, there might have been pain and suffering. If even a few seconds of pain and suffering can be established, the estate can seek compensation on behalf of the decedent. A personal injury attorney will use documentation of the fatal incident and expert testimony in an attempt to support an award for pain and suffering.
The rules on inheritance set forth in O.C.G.A.§ 53-2-1 et seq will determine who can bring an estate claim. If the decedent died with a will, only the administrator named in the will could bring a claim. If the victim died intestate, without a will, then Georgia’s laws of inheritance will determine who can bring the suit.
The Primary Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and an Estate Claim
A wrongful death claim is a civil claim brought by surviving family members to seek compensation and punitive damages for the value of their loved one’s life. An estate claim is brought by the victim’s estate to seek compensation for the financial costs associated with the victim’s death.
Who Can Claim Wrongful Death Damages
Georgia law clearly defines how wrongful death compensation will be distributed among survivors. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2(d)(1) requires that any wrongful death recovery be divided among the surviving spouse and children. Compensation in Estate claims are distributed per the decedents will, or under Georgia’s laws of inheritance if the decedent died without a will.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney in Georgia
If you have experienced the tragedy of losing a loved one in a potential wrongful death case, we at Tobin Injury Law want you to know that you can reach out to us to discuss the potential claim. There is no pain like that of losing a loved one to the negligent or willfully criminal acts of another. We know that compensation for a wrongful death will not ease your grief, but it is our hope that it can help ease the financial burden so that you can focus on healing after your loss.
We will treat you with the respect and compassion that you deserve and give you an honest assessment of the strength of your wrongful death case. You can reach us at 1-404-587-8423.