Wrongful Death Action in a Georgia Murder Case

In Georgia, OCGA § 51-4-2 (a) provides that a surviving spouse or child can recover compensation for a parent’s or spouse’s homicide for the full value of the life of the decedent. Although the surviving spouse usually brings the claim for wrongful death on behalf of the child, another person may bring the action to protect the child’s interests if the surviving spouse refuses or fails to file the suit. This action can be brought against the person responsible for the homicide.
In a recent case, the Georgia Supreme Court considered the case in which a wife was murdered in front of a married couple’s baby daughter, while her husband was working. After the death, the husband abandoned the child. The victim’s father and his wife adopted the daughter.
About four years later, the police talked to someone who claimed to be present during the murder. She identified hired killers that turned out to be co-conspirators of Chinan Rai, the father of the husband who had abandoned his child. Rai had hired hit men to kill his daughter-in-law because she was African-American.
Rai was eventually convicted of his daughter-in-law’s murder. The victim’s father filed a lawsuit against him for wrongful death on behalf of the child and for pain and suffering for his daughter, as the estate administrator of his daughter’s estate.
A jury awarded the child $2.5 million for wrongful death and awarded the father $100,000 for pain and suffering. Rai (the defendant) brought a motion for a new trial, which was denied.
The defendant appealed on the grounds that the daughter-in-law’s estate was time-barred from bringing the lawsuit. The Court of Appeals considered whether the defendant had committed a fraud such that the estate’s claim for pain and suffering could go forward in spite of it falling outside the statutory time limitations period.
In an earlier case, the court had held that a plaintiff may sue outside of the time limits for personal injury lawsuits when actual fraud is at issue in the lawsuit or where the crux of the lawsuit is something other than actual fraud, but in which independent fraud involving moral turpitude stops a plaintiff from timely filing a lawsuit. The appellate court found that the defendant had committed a fraud, which forced the victim’s father to bring the action later.
The defendant asked the Georgia Supreme Court to review the issue. The victim’s father argued that the murder conspiracy was also an actual fraud that formed the basis of the complaint. The defendant had arranged and concealed the murder to prevent his identity from being known.
The Court reasoned that nobody in the murder wanted to be caught, but the motivation to get away with murder did not support a finding of fraudulent concealment or actual fraud in and of itself. Therefore, actual fraud was not the basis of the father’s wrongful death action.
The Court noted that there was no evidence of particular fraudulent conduct or fraud involving moral turpitude, other than the efforts of the participants to keep their involvement hidden. Therefore the Court ruled that the father’s claim on behalf of the estate was time-barred as falling outside the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions.
The defendant argued that the wrongful death action should also be reversed because it was barred by a 2-year personal injury statute of limitations, too. On this issue, however, the Court found his arguments unavailing.
The statute that covered the daughter’s suit, OCGA § 51-4-2 (a), permits a surviving spouse or child to recover for a parent’s or spouse’s homicide for the full value of the life of the decedent.
In this case, the couple’s daughter could sue for the wrongful death of her mother under the statute governing wrongful deaths based on homicide. The trial court had properly transferred the power to bring suit to the victim’s father. Since the surviving spouse had abandoned his daughter, this transfer was proper in order to protect the child’s interests.
If a loved one is killed either because of negligence or intentional conduct, you may be wondering if you can file a lawsuit and recover damages for your loss. Contact experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune  at 404-875-7800 or via our online form for a consultation.