When a lawsuit is filed for actions that led to the death of a victim, a major question arises: Who files the suit? In all other cases, the victim is responsible for filing the suit, but in the case of death, this responsibility must pass to someone else.
In Georgia, there are two types of lawsuits that can be filed in the result of a death: wrongful death and estate claims. The difference between a wrongful death suit and an estate suit comes largely from what the plaintiff is able to recover in each suit. Generally, a wrongful death action is filed by a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the victim’s child or children could bring the wrongful death suit. On the other hand, the representative of an estate of the victim brings the estate claim. Under certain circumstances, the person bringing the wrongful death claim may be the same as the person bringing the estate claim.
This defining difference of the filer causes these types of suits to diverge further. A wrongful death claim focuses on different areas of renumeration than an estate claim does. Further, a wrongful death claim and estate claim have different reward distribution systems.
Wrongful death is a lawsuit filed most often by the victim’s family. These cases seek remuneration for the life of a loved one.
What is Wrongful Death?
The first thing to consider when thinking about wrongful death cases is what exactly counts as wrongful death. A death is considered wrongful under Georgia law if someone or something caused it, meaning by something other than because of natural causes.
Who Files a Wrongful Death Case?
The short answer to this question is that the victim’s family files in a wrongful death case, but the law itself is much more specific. There is a particular order that the responsibility of filing must follow in such a case.
The first person with the right to file a claim is the spouse of the victim. If the victim has a living spouse, their spouse must be the one to file a claim. If there is no spouse, the next in line is any children of the victim, and if there are no children, the final right to file a wrongful death suit would go to the parents of the victim.
The order must be followed in such a case. A parent may only file a wrongful death claim if there is no spouse or children to do so, and the children may only file a claim if there is no spouse. Any compensation won from the case goes to the filer.
If the victim has no spouse, children, or parents, then, and only then, may the person in charge of the victim’s estate file a wrongful death claim. In this case, the remuneration would not go to the filer but would be divided according to probate rules.
What Does a Wrongful Death Suit Seek Compensation For?
Georgia law says specifically that a wrongful death claim is for “the full value of the life of the decedent”. This includes both tangible value, which is what the deceased would have continued to earn at a job as well as the value of contributions to the household, and intangible, which is essentially the value of a life missed. The intangible value of life includes things like companionship, parenting, doing fun activities, and experiencing life milestones.
When considering “the full value of a life” in a wrongful death case, it must be considered from the point of view of the deceased. The value is determined from the perspective of the victim rather than the filer.
An estate claim is filed by the representative of the deceased’s estate. The goal of an estate claim is to recoup the loss involved with the victim’s death. It also recovers for any pre-impact fright shock terror and suffering the person lived through before they ultimately died.
What is the Estate?
A person’s estate refers to the value of everything they own as well as any debts they may owe. A person’s estate is not necessarily controlled by a family member though oftentimes the representative in the wrongful death case can be the same person bringing the estate case. Generally, the executor or manager of the estate is named in the deceased’s will. If no one is named as executor, or if the executor refuses the job, a probate court will appoint someone to serve.
Who Files an Estate Claim?
As the name implies, an estate claim is filed by the representative of the deceased’s estate. Practically what this means is that it is filed by the executor of the estate. What this also means is that the compensation does not go to an individual filer, but to the estate itself. The money recovered here goes to the pain and suffering the person experienced before they passed.
What Does an Estate Claim Seek Compensation For?
Remember that a person’s estate includes not just what they own but also what they owe. The first goal of an estate claim is to recoup losses involved with a person’s death such as medical bills and funeral costs. This prevents these costs from coming out of the victim’s estate.
Secondly, an estate claim seeks compensation for any pain and suffering the deceased experienced before they died. If a person died instantly suffering damages cannot be claimed. However, Georgia does rule that even a few seconds of lingering life can deserve recompense for suffering.
Third, punitive damages may be sought in an estate claim if certain requirements are met. Punitive damages are generally awarded to penalize, punish, or deter the wrongdoer’s very bad behavior that caused the death.
Should You File a Wrongful Death Claim? Or an Estate Claim?
If you were the spouse, child, or parent of the victim, a wrongful death suit would allow you to claim recompense for what the ongoing loss of your loved one means in your life.
If your loved one suffered greatly and/or accumulated expenses as a result of whatever eventually led to their death, then an estate claim may help to recoup these losses. You should be able to mourn your loved one without also having to struggle to pay their bills.
In general, if you were dependent on the deceased, then filing a wrongful death suit may be best as it will allow you to seek recompense for the loss of their support, both economic and emotional. If the deceased was fairly independent, then an estate claim will allow you to settle their affairs.
To put it simply, a wrongful death claim seeks compensation for the victim’s life, while an estate claim seeks to recover losses from the victim’s death. A wrongful death case is filed by the victim’s family with the goal of getting remuneration for the life the victim would have lived. An estate claim is filed by the estate to recover from bills revolving around the death and provide recompense for any suffering the victim experienced.
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