Accidents are a top cause of serious injuries and disability, but you might not realize how frequently these tragedies end with fatalities. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidents are the fourth leading cause of death in the US. Almost 225,000 people are killed every year because of unintentional incidents, including 45,000 from motor vehicle accidents and 44,700 in falls. For surviving family members, the grief is unimaginable as they cope with financial and emotional loss.
In Georgia, you may have a legal remedy when a loved one is killed in a fatal accident. Through a wrongful death lawsuit, it is possible to recover for your losses. These cases are similar to a personal injury claim, except that the victim died instead of getting hurt.
Another factor that makes wrongful death cases unique is that there are strict rules on who can sue. Only those who qualify have rights, and an Atlanta wrongful death lawyer can explain the details. Some background on who can bring a claim is also useful.
Standing in Georgia Wrongful Death Cases
Standing is the term used in the legal field to describe someone who has rights to sue or take other court action. With a typical personal injury case, the victim has standing. When the person was killed in an accident, standing passes to other individuals according to statute. A person has standing to sue in a wrongful death case as:
- The surviving spouse;
- An adult child or the guardian of a minor child, if there is no surviving spouse; or,
- A parent, if there is neither a surviving spouse nor child.
When none of these people exist, the duty to sue for wrongful death goes to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. This could be someone named in a will or appointed as administrator if there was no will. The representative sues and recovers on behalf of the deceased person’s next of kin.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
These cases are unique in that you must first get past the threshold of having standing, and then you must still prove the claim. The details will vary according to the type of accident, but most wrongful death cases fall under the concept of negligence. You need evidence showing that the accident happened because the at-fault party breached the duty of reasonable care.
You might have a wrongful death claim based upon negligence if a loved one died due to:
- A car accident;
- A truck crash;
- A motorcycle collision;
- A pedestrian or bicycle accident; and,
- Incidents that happen because of dangerous conditions on property, such as slip and falls.
How Wrongful Death Compensation Works
When the person who would be entitled to damages has passed away, the big question is the basis for compensation. The Georgia statute is relatively broad, allowing for many different types of damages. The law states that surviving family members are entitled to the full value of the decedent’s life, though there are no specifics or an exact formula.
You might be surprised to learn that the damages for “full value” represent what the survivors have lost because of the decedent’s death. The victim certainly suffered, but you also suffer losses. Compensation in a wrongful death case includes:
- The decedent’s future income that would have been earned if he or she lived;
- Contributions to the household;
- Loss of consortium, for a surviving spouse; and,
- Losses related to guidance, love, support, and education.
Georgia Survival Action as a Legal Remedy
There is also a claim that is associated with wrongful death, but it focuses on the losses victims sustained after the accident and before succumbing their injuries. In many cases, health care providers can prolong life a few days or weeks, and there are losses during this time before death. A survival action is the legal remedy in such a case, and the person with standing is the personal representative of the estate. Whatever the administrator recovers becomes part of the estate, to be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries.
Examples of damages in a survival action are:
- Funeral expenses and the expenses to treat the victim’s last illness;
- Lost wages between the date of the accident and the date of death; and,
- Pain and suffering that the decedent endured during this same period.
Challenges with Wrongful Death Cases
One of the biggest obstacles with these claims is that the key witness is not available to provide details on what happened. However, there are other sources, including other witnesses, camera footage, pictures and video at the scene, and many others.
Another pitfall with wrongful death cases is that the statute of limitations works differently as compared to other personal injury claims. In most cases, you still have 2 years to sue in court. If you let the deadline pass, you are prohibited from seeking compensation. Still:
- The statute of limitations may be paused for up to 5 years as the deceased person’s estate goes through probate.
- When the decedent died because of criminal activity, the criminal case goes first. The statute of limitations starts after the verdict in the criminal case, and extends up to 6 years.
Legal Representation is Critical
To ensure you recover the full amount of compensation allowed by Georgia law, it is important to retain skilled counsel. You will need assistance with investigations and gathering evidence to prove fault, and you must have thorough records showing your losses.
Getting a lawyer’s help with insurance claims is crucial, since the process involves more than just filling out forms. Plus, you will need support when it comes to settlement negotiations and litigation.
Trust an Atlanta Wrongful Death Attorney for Legal Assistance
As you can see, it is crucial to retain experienced legal representation when pursuing a claim for wrongful death. There are challenges in dealing with insurers, and your case gets more complicated if you must sue in court. To learn how we can help, please contact Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys. You can schedule a free case analysis by calling (404) 529-3476 or visiting our website.