Losing a loved one, especially unexpectedly, can have a profound impact on families and can leave you grappling with not only emotional devastation but also the potential for significant financial hardship. While no amount of money can replace your loved one, damages in a wrongful death claim can help ease any financial strain. Below, we will discuss Georgia law concerning wrongful death claims, who can file such a claim, and more.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim? | Ga. Code § 51-4
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action brought forth when a person's death is caused directly by the negligence or intentional act of another party. The circumstances that constitute wrongful death can vary widely, but common examples include medical malpractice, car accidents due to negligent driving, workplace incidents due to lack of safety protocols, or intentional acts of violence.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in GA?
In Georgia, the decedent’s surviving spouse has the right to pursue a wrongful death claim (see Ga. Code § 51-4-2). If they do not have a surviving spouse, in the following order, these people are eligible to file a claim:
The executor of the decedent's estate
The law does not allow for siblings, cousins, grandparents, or other family members to file a lawsuit. However, if there are no surviving spouses, children, or parents and an estate executor brings a claim forward, other next of kin (including those unable to bring a claim forward themselves) can benefit from the recovered damages.
Is There a Statute of Limitations on GA Wrongful Death Claims?
Yes, claimants must bring such claims forward in a specific time. Specifically, you must file a claim within two years of the decedent's passing. It is important to note that the two-year limitation can be tolled (or paused) if the death was the result of a crime or when the decedent’s estate has not been probated (see Ga. Code §§ 9-3-99 and 9-3-92).
Establishing Liability in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Wrongful death claims can be emotionally charged and legally complex. Establishing liability is often the most challenging part of the process. In these cases, you will need to prove the following four elements:
Negligence. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant's negligence or recklessness led to the death.
Breach of duty. The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, and this duty was breached. For example, a driver has a duty of care to other road users to drive responsibly. If they were speeding, under the influence, or not paying attention and caused an accident that resulted in death, they would likely be found negligent and in breach of their duty of care.
Causation. There must be a causal link between the breach of duty and the death.
Damages. The death caused quantifiable damages, such as lost income, medical expenses, and funeral costs.
Establishing liability in wrongful death cases can be challenging. It often requires substantial evidence, expert testimony, and a deep understanding of the law. One common obstacle is proving causation – specifically, showing that the defendant's breach of duty directly resulted in the death.
The cornerstone of such cases is often the medical report detailing the cause of death, which can directly link the defendant's actions or negligence to the fatality. Other important pieces of evidence can include:
Witness statements also play a crucial role, providing firsthand accounts of the incident and potentially confirming the defendant's culpability.
Forensic evidence is another key component, offering scientific proof such as toxicology reports or accident reconstruction to validate the claim.
Documentary evidence like text messages, emails, or surveillance footage can shed light on the defendant's behavior or state of mind.
Each piece of evidence must collectively create a compelling narrative that unequivocally proves the defendant's breach of duty caused the wrongful death. It's essential to remember that the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, making it paramount to gather comprehensive, credible evidence to substantiate their claim convincingly.
Compassionate & Reliable Legal Counsel
Pursuing a wrongful death claim is not straightforward and involves intricate legal procedures that necessitate a set knowledge and skill set. Should you wish to pursue such a case, it is in your best interest to obtain a wrongful death attorney.
At The Dickinson Law Firm, our attorneys can help grieving families understand their legal rights and options after a loved one is fatally injured. Known for being understanding, encouraging, and competent, we understand that losing a loved one can be emotionally and financially crushing, which is why we can work to pursue the best possible settlement results.
Call (770) 924-8155 today to request a free consultation.