Wrongful death claims allow family members to seek compensation after the wrongful death of a loved one. In addition to obtaining a sense of justice, family members can also shore up their finances, especially when a family breadwinner has passed. A common question we receive at Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys is “How much can we receive in a settlement?”
Under Georgia law, family members can seek compensation for the “full value” of your loved one’s life. But what does that mean, exactly? How do you measure the “value” of someone’s life?
Our wrongful death attorneys have tackled many of these cases, so we understand how damages are calculated. Below, we highlight 5 of the most important factors impacting your wrongful death compensation.
1. Your Loved One’s Income Before Death
The “full value” of someone’s life can include how much money they earned while working. That type of economic loss can seriously harm a family’s finances. Imagine that a husband with a full-time job dies. His spouse and children lose out on the income he could have earned had he survived the accident.
A key consideration is your loved one’s income right before death. A doctor making $200,000 could reasonably expect to earn at least that much going forward until retirement. By contrast, someone working part-time and earning $25,000 would likely earn much less.
Our lawyers have experience working with accountants and other professionals to estimate how much income someone could earn during their working life. Some other factors include the deceased’s education and where you live. We can then demand compensation for lost income as part of your wrongful death claim.
2. Your Loved One’s Age
This is another critical factor. The reality is that a younger person would likely work many more years than someone who is older.
Imagine your wife dies at 35. She made $50,000 a year. You would likely be entitled to much more in compensation than if your wife were 65 and making $50,000 on the verge of retirement. Your loved one’s age goes into the calculation, along with other factors, to determine lost income.
3. Your Relationship with the Deceased
The “full value” of someone’s life includes much more than missed income. It also includes things like:
- Any services your loved one provided. For example, a mother might have stayed home to raise children. Spouses often provide critical services to their families, such as cooking, cleaning, yard work, transportation, or elder care. We can request compensation for the loss of these services.
- The loss of companionship. Losing a spouse is devastating. You lose out on your best friend and romantic partner. This type of loss is not “economic” in the same way as lost services or income. But Georgia law includes it when calculating the “full value” of someone’s life.
- The loss of advice and care. Our family members also provide advice, care, and guidance. This is especially true when a young child loses a parent. We can also include losses of these sorts in a wrongful death claim.
These are some of the compensatory damages we request for wrongful death clients. Of course, we need to prove your relationship. For example, if your wife stayed home and cared for young children, you will need to testify to that fact.
4. The Deceased’s Contributory Negligence
Georgia’s contributory negligence statute (OCGA § 51-12-33) applies to wrongful death cases. It prohibits receiving compensation if the decedent was 50% or more responsible for their injuries or damages. What’s more, any negligence will reduce the compensation your family receives proportionally.
Imagine your wife was killed in a car accident from a distracted driver who ran a red light. However, she was half in the intersection waiting for her light to turn green. Although the distracted driver probably bears most of the blame, your wife is also partially at fault. That type of negligence on the part of the victim will reduce the compensation available.
Contact our law firm. Our wrongful death lawyers always try to see an accident from all angles. We want to know what happened and if your loved one in any way contributed to their injuries. You might think this is “blaming the victim”—and it is. But Georgia allows a defendant to raise the victim’s negligence as a defense. And you can be sure the defendant will try to pin as much blame as possible on the deceased’s shoulders.
5. The Defendant’s Financial Resources
Even if a defendant is liable for the death of a loved one, you are not guaranteed financial compensation. Why? Because the defendant might not have any money to pay you. When we analyze a case, we always try to find out what financial resources the defendant has.
For many defendants, an insurance policy will represent the only pot of money to pay a settlement. With a car accident, we might submit a claim on the driver’s insurance policy. However, Georgia only requires $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage.
If a loved one died on someone’s property, we might submit a claim to their homeowners insurance policy or renter’s insurance. For example, imagine if a child drowns in a swimming pool because the owner failed to erect barriers. You might sue the owner, whose homeowner’s insurer defends them. Many of these policies have limits around $300,000–500,000.
We might have better luck if a business is a defendant. They should have a liability policy with higher limits. In other cases, a defendant might have an umbrella insurance policy, which can increase the amount of money available. Nonetheless, a defendant’s ability (or inability) to pay is an important factor to consider.
Speak with Our Wrongful Death Attorneys
This article briefly skimmed five of the most important factors that go into calculating the value of a wrongful death claim. There are others which we can delve into with greater detail in a free consultation. Contact Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys to schedule a confidential meeting. We are available to take your call at (404) 529-3476.