When a wrongful death is caused by the intentional, criminal, reckless, or negligent actions of another party or business, a claim for wrongful death can be brought in Atlanta, Georgia.
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, the Atlanta wrongful death lawyer at Bethune Law Firm can help you assert your legal rights. Having represented victims in injury cases since 1997, Terrence R. Bethune will investigate the events that led to your family member’s death and seek to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.
Table of Contents
Families Can Have a Wrongful Death Claim
Whether a traffic accident or some other incident took your loved one’s life, people who are responsible for the death of another person can be held accountable. In the event of a person’s death, Georgia law allows for the family of the decedent to file a wrongful death lawsuit, in which the family may seek damages meant to compensate them for the death. Although money cannot bring back a lost loved one, it is the only non-criminal remedy our system provides.
The Georgia wrongful death statute allows only certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The decedent’s spouse;
- Any surviving children;
- Parents of the decedent; or
- The administrator of the estate on behalf of next of kin.
Each of these family members retains the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in succession, contingent upon there being no live person with priority. In other words, the decedent’s surviving spouse has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Only if there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s children have the right to file suit, and only if there are no children, parents of the decedent have the right to file.
The family has two years from the date the decedent passed away to file suit. There are some exceptions to this rule, but it is in your best interest to seek advice from an attorney as soon as practicable after the death of a family member. Missing this deadline could mean that the entire lawsuit will be thrown out of court.
Who Can File a Case of Wrongful Death in Atlanta, Georgia?
Georgia’s wrongful death statute has strict rules regarding who can bring a claim. If the person has a surviving spouse, that spouse has the authority to bring a claim. However, if there are surviving children, the spouse will have to act as a representative of the children and share any damages that may be awarded to the family.
It should be noted that while the surviving spouse is compelled to share damages, he or she may never receive less than a third of the recovery, no matter how many surviving children there may be, and if the deceased person was divorced at the time of his or her death, the surviving children would jointly hold the claim.
If there is no surviving spouse or children, the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate can bring the claim, and the damages that may be recovered are held for the benefit of the deceased’s next of kin.
How Do You Prove Liability for Wrongful Death?
The underlying allegations in a wrongful death lawsuit are often the same as other injury suits. For instance, a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges negligence must prove the same elements as an ordinary negligence lawsuit:
- The defendant owed a duty to the decedent to act with reasonable care.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- The defendant’s actions were the cause of the decedent’s death.
What Should You Do If You Have Lost a Loved One?
If your family has lost a beloved family member as a result of wrongful death, you will need time to grieve and go through a range of emotions that come with losing someone close to you. While it is important that you properly mourn the loss of your family member, it is also important to gather as much evidence as you can after the incident.
For instance, in the case of a crash where a driver of a company car kills the driver of another car, as soon as the accident occurs, the company driver is likely to call his company. Once the company gets that call, they are likely to contact their law firm and the insurance company who will, in turn, get defense experts out to the scene to gather evidence. The evidence is used to build a defense in an attempt to avoid responsibility.
If the family of the deceased driver, or their attorney, fails to act swiftly to preserve the necessary data, the responsible company may attempt to delete the data. Further, evidence such as debris and skid marks on the road should be recorded before they are washed away, or the road is re-opened to other cars.
That is why it is essential to gather the necessary evidence as quickly as possible. Even if Georgia’s statute of limitations allows for two years to file a case of wrongful death, it is important that your Atlanta wrongful death lawyer starts as quickly as possible.
Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and Estate Claim
There are two claims that surviving family members can file in court. The first is a wrongful death claim and is created by Georgia’s statute. The claim is usually for the full value of the life of the person who died. In such cases, the jury must consider what the person’s life meant to the deceased, and this may include both the non-economic and economic value.
The economic value is the amount of money that the deceased would have earned had he or she lived until suffering a natural death. The non-economic value considers the enjoyment of life. This includes elements such as daily activities, relationships, getting married, studying for a degree, learning to drive, and all the other things that make up a life non-economically.
The second claim that can be brought is an estate claim, and it allows the person’s family to recover for the pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death along with medical bills that occurred prior to death, burial and funeral expenses, and a number of other items. In our state, any claim for punitive damages can also be brought by the estate.
What Is a Survival Lawsuit?
An important distinction in the law is the difference between the family’s wrongful death lawsuit and what is called a survival lawsuit. The decedent’s estate can file a survival action if the decedent suffered injuries and died later. Even if a personal injury lawsuit has already been filed, and the decedent subsequently dies, the original lawsuit can be kept on file along with a new wrongful death lawsuit. Compensatory and punitive damages are available in a survival lawsuit.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim?
Surviving family members or the administrator of the deceased’s estate have two years from the date of death to bring the claim. If, however, a person is killed as the result of a car accident, the time period may be paused pending the outcome of a criminal proceeding against the responsible driver.
What Damages Can Be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Case?
In a wrongful death case in Atlanta, Georgia, the value of human life is typically viewed from the perspective of the deceased person. The jury is compelled to consider the value of the deceased’s life to himself or herself and must learn about who the person was and what made that person’s life special to arrive at an amount of damage to be awarded to the claimant.
Furthermore, the estate of the deceased person holds the claim for medical bills, funeral expenses, and conscious pain and suffering prior to death.
Wrongful death plaintiffs can recover extensive damages. Georgia law allows claimants to recover an amount that represents the full value of the decedent’s life. This usually means recovering economic damages for lifetime wages as well as non-economic damages intended to compensate for the enjoyment of the life the decedent would have lived. Punitive damages are not allowed in Georgia wrongful death lawsuits.
Talk to a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia
At the Bethune Law Firm, we know that mourning the loss of someone you love is your top priority, but consulting with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who shows skill and empathy in handling the case is just as important.
Your wrongful death lawyer should know what to do and how to do it and will be able to give you the freedom to concentrate on rebuilding your life while we concentrate on the case. Filing a suit against the liable party is almost always a necessity, and while a settlement might be reached, the goal is to prepare the case for trial.
Trust Your Case to an Experienced Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyer
Monetary damages can never fully compensate a family for the loss of a loved one, but it is important to hold those responsible for needless deaths accountable for their actions. The Atlanta wrongful death lawyer at Bethune Law Firm has been representing Georgians since 1997 and can help you if you have lost a family member due to another person’s negligence.
If you have lost a loved one due to another party’s negligence or wrongful actions, please call us to discuss your case. Whether you are a surviving spouse, a surviving child, the parents of the deceased, or the administrator of the estate wishing to file a case on behalf of the next of kin, we will hold those accountable for the loss of your relative.