Georgia Wrongful Death Claims
Recovery for the death of a person killed by another.
This year it is projected that over 1,110 people will die in crashes on Georgia roads. Carroll County is among the top ten counties for fatal crashes, with the number of fatal crashes here increasing both of the last two years for which statistics are available. While car wrecks aren’t the only situation where a person may be killed and there is a right to recover, they are the most frequent. Wrongful death is the term that Georgia law uses to describe a case brought when a person is killed in a car wreck or otherwise. The statute uses the term “homicide”, but it applies whether a death is intentional or not.
Recovery amounts in a wrongful death action.
Recovery is limited to the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence”. The statute does not define what is meant by “full value”. That is where courts come in to interpret the statue. Our courts say that the full value of one’s life is measured not form the point of view of those who lost her, but from the deceased person’s point of view. In other words, what was living worth to her?
Additionally, each life has an economic value (lost wages, loss of services, etc.), and those are also recoverable as part of a wrongful death action. There is no deduction allowed for what it would have cost the person to live out her life (housing, food, etc.).
What is not recoverable as part of a wrongful death action are the pain and suffering of the person after injury but prior to death; medical expenses; lost income prior to death; or, the final expenses (funeral, burial, etc.) Those claims may only be made by the deceased person’s estate.
Who may bring a wrongful death claim
Who may make a claim for wrongful death is controlled by O.C.G.A. §51-4-2 (if an adult) and §51-4-4 (if a child). Generally, who can bring the wrongful death claim is:
- Children (including minor children and children born out of wedlock)
Any amount recovered by a spouse is equally divided among the spouse and the children, except the spouse’s share may never be less than one-third of the total recovery. If a child is deceased, his share is divided among his children.
- Spouse or child
- Parent or parents
How funds are divided between parents is addressed in O.C.G.A. §19-7-1(c)(2)(C).
If there is no one listed in the statute who is entitled to recover for the death of an adult or minor, the statute makes provisions for someone to be appointed, insuring there is always someone who is entitled to recover in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death recoveries are not subject to claims of creditors of the deceased
Georgia law provides “No recovery…shall be subject to any debt or liability of the decedent.” O.C.G.A. §51-4-2.
If you suffer the death of a loved one, even if you don’t think you are the person entitled to recover, it is a good idea to talk to an experienced attorney. Perhaps you can give some necessary information to the person who is entitled to bring the action – information that may be critical to identify insurance that may apply. Prompt notice to insurers may be critical, and settling with one carrier may cause you to lose rights with others. There are many traps for the uninformed when it comes to wrongful death cases. Call me for a free consultation (not a sales pitch – I don’t like those anymore than anyone else). You will almost certainly get advice that will make a difference in the recovery.
Ann-Margaret Perkins is a partner with Perkins Law Firm, L.L.P. practicing personal injury and social security disability, but her claim to fame is being mom to former Southeastern Guide Dogs breeder, Baxter.