Wrongful Death Attorney in Fulton County
What is a civil action for wrongful death?
In Georgia, an action for wrongful death is a civil action brought in court to recover money damages for the death of a family member due to the negligent or reckless conduct of another. We have asserted wrongful death claims in cases related to: tractor-trailer collisions, auto collisions, nursing home/long-term care negligence, and premises liability (murders at businesses and apartments).
Who is entitled to bring an action for wrongful death in Fulton County?
O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2 provides that the surviving spouse of a person may bring an action for the wrongful death of the other spouse. If the decedent had no spouse, the child or children is/are the proper person/s to bring suit. If the surviving child is a minor, an adult representative of the child is appointed to pursue the action in the child’s name. The fact that a child may have been born out of wedlock does not bar that child’s right to share in the recovery.
It is also important to note that if the decedent is survived by a spouse and children, all such people share in the recovery. However, the surviving spouse receives no less than 1/3 of the settlement proceeds. What does this mean in plain English? If a wrongful death settlement is reached for $2,000,000.00 and the decedent had a wife and three children, the wife would get 1/3 of the entire recovery with the three children splitting the remainder of the money equally.
While rare, when a decedent has neither a surviving spouse nor surviving children, Georgia law has a specific statutory scheme which sets forth, in detail, who pursues the action and how to divide up a recovery for wrongful death among living family members.
Some of the most relevant code sections in Georgia related to wrongful death are: O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1“Definitions”; O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2 “Homicide of spouse or parent; survival of action”; O.C.G.A. § 51-4-4“Homicide of a child”; O.C.G.A. § 51-4-5 “Recovery by administrator or executor of decedent”; and, O.C.G.A. § 19-7-1 “Parental power; recovery for homicide of child.”
How does a jury determine how much money to award in a Fulton County wrongful death case?
Obviously, no amount of money can undo the harm that has been done. The American legal system, while not without flaws, is generally considered the best in the world. However, a jury can only award money damages in an attempt to “right the wrong.” The person responsible for the wrongful death may also face criminal charges brought by the State (as in a DUI collision); however, in actions for wrongful death are entirely civil law matters wherein only monetary damages are sought. I have had many clients who tell me that there is some peace and closure in the knowledge that the monetary recovery from their loved one’s wrongful death has provided financial security for the family and/or allowed for children and grandchildren to attend college.
During trial, evidence is presented about what the decedent accomplished in life, what he or she earned (income), hobbies, friends, etc. From this evidence, a jury determines “the full value of the life.” See, O.C.G.A. §§ 51-4-2(a) and 19-7-1(c)(1). This is an imperfect measure, but Georgia juries usually make very substantial monetary awards when considering wrongful death cases. In Georgia, the standard for recovery for wrongful death is “the enlightened conscience of the jury.” If you strip away the fancy legal wording, the standard really means that the amount of the award is totally up to the jury.
Other than the wrongful death claim, are there any other claims asserted in the lawsuit?
Yes. Each case presents specific facts which must be analyzed in light of what avenues of recovery might be available. Generally, the Estate of the deceased individual also has a claim. The Estate claim encompasses things like funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and pre-death pain and suffering. See, O.C.G.A. § 51-4-5(b); O.C.G.A. § 9-2-41. Often, the surviving spouse or one of the surviving children will be the Administrator or Executor of the Estate. The representative of the Estate is the one vested with the authority to bring the Estate claims.
What if the decedent was retired, was a stay-at-home parent, or simply did not work?
Georgia law allows for recovery for wrongful death regardless of whether the decedent was employed or wage-earning at the time of death. If the decedent was retired, it is unlikely that a claim for lost wages could be brought; however, a claim for “the full value of the life” may still be asserted and this is often a very substantial claim. If the decedent worked as a stay-at-home parent and otherwise provided services to the household, Georgia law allows a monetary value to be placed on this type of work. Generally, an economist is retained to place a value on what the decedent contributed to the household (child-care, chores around the house, etc.) and a range of numbers is presented to the jury, much like a typical lost income claim.
Contact us today if someone you care about might need a wrongful death Attorney in Fulton County, GA or the greater Atlanta area.
Atlanta, GA 30338
Phone: (404) 869-1580