A civil claim for wrongful death can potentially arise whenever some culpable actions by an individual, business or public entity directly causes or contributes to the accidental or unnatural death of the decedent. In Georgia, wrongful death cases can be based upon any of the following tortious causes:
- Negligent or careless conduct such as a car wreck
- Drunk driving
- Medical malpractice
- Engineering malpractice
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Defective products
- Unsafe prescription drugs
- Dangerous medical devices
- Contaminated food
- Illegal sale or improper service of alcohol
- Faulty construction
- Unlawful or criminal acts
- Intentional homicide
A wrongful death lawsuit can be pursued in almost any circumstance where the defendant’s unsafe product or actions led to another person’s death. In Georgia, a wrongful death lawsuit can allege that the defendant acted negligently, or committed malpractice, or manufactured a defective machine, or sold a dangerous drug, or served contaminated food. A civil claim for wrongful death can also be based upon allegations that the defendant’s actions were unlawful or that he intended to hurt or kill the decedent. In sum, any culpable conduct ranging from the careless to criminal may support an action for wrongful death in Georgia and most other states.
Georgia’s Wrongful Death Statutes are very specific as to who may pursue a claim. The right to pursue a claim for wrongful death is usually restricted by statute to certain family members. The Georgia Wrongful Death Act strictly vests ownership of a claim for wrongful death as follows:
- to the spouse of the decedent;
- if there is no spouse, then to the decedent’s children;
- if there is no spouse or children, then to the living parent(s) of the decedent; and
- if there is no spouse, children or living parent, then to the administrator of the
Thus, in Georgia, only the decedent’s spouse, children or parent(s), in that order of priority, are vested with the authority to file wrongful death lawsuits. Other relatives such as a sibling, uncle, aunt or grandparent have no right to prosecute the wrongful death case. If there is no surviving spouse, child or parent, then whoever is appointed Administrator of the decedent’s Estate must assert the wrongful death claim.
The types and amount of damages which can be recovered in a wrongful death case vary widely from state to state. Under Georgia law, there are three categories of damages which potentially can be sought in a lawsuit involving fatal injuries.
- Full value of the life of the decedent as shown by the evidence.
- Funeral, medical and other necessary expenses resulting from the injury or death
of the deceased person.
- medical expenses, pain and suffering by the decedent, and other damages arising
during the period between the decedent’s injury and subsequent death. This is
known as a “survival” claim.
The claim for the “full value of the life of the decedent” is the primary cause of action in any wrongful death case. That claim can only be brought by the family member who is authorized to assert that claim under Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act. The only claim for damages which automatically vests with the decedent’s spouse, children or parents is the claim for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” In addition, the Estate of the decedent may seek to recover the “funeral, medical and other necessary expenses resulting from the injury or death” of the decedent. This is a separate and distinct claim which can only be brought by the decedent’s Estate. If the case involves injuries which did not immediately cause the death of the decedent, the Estate can also assert what is known as a “survival action” to recover damages arising during the period between the injury causing event and the decedent’s subsequent death. All of these claims should be joined together in the same lawsuit.
Our firm provides experienced, professional assistance to those who have lost a loved one due to the negligence of others.
We will fight for your family’s rights throughout the difficult times caused by the tragic loss of a relative. We will assist you through the Probate process, and handle your case professionally from start to finish.