Broadly speaking, a wrongful death claim arises when a loved one dies from injuries sustained as a result of the negligence of another. More specifically, under Georgia law, there are actually two potential, yet very different, claims.
First, there is the traditional wrongful death claim; this claim belongs to the loved one’s survivors. Second, there is the “survivorship claim” which is a separate claim by the estate of the deceased.
The Wrongful Death Claim
This claim is for the ”full value” of the life of a loved one who has died as a result of the negligence of another. The “full value” of the loved one’s life encompasses two factors: the economic losses and the non-economic losses. Economic losses, generally, encompass the lost income that the loved one would have earned had they survived. Non-economic losses include the loss of enjoyment of the rest of the deceased’s natural life. Under Georgia law, the “full value” of the life of a loved one is viewed from that loved one’s own perspective, not that of his or her survivors.
As to who can make the claim for the wrongful death of another, Georgia law has established an order of those who may assert the claims:
First are the spouse and children of the deceased: If your loved one is survived by a husband or wife, then that spouse has the right to make the claim or file a suit for wrongful death. If the deceased is survived by a spouse and children, then the spouse must file on behalf of himself or herself and on behalf of the children.
Second, if your loved one was not survived by a husband or wife, then the children of the deceased have the right to make the claim and file the lawsuit.
Third, if your loved one was not survived by a husband or wife or children, then any surviving parent has the right to make the claim and file the lawsuit.
Finally, if none of the above have survived, then the deceased’s estate has the right to make the claim and file the lawsuit and the estate would distribute the proceeds of that claim in accordance with Georgia probate law.
The Surviorship Claim
This claim can be filed only by the loved one’s estate and, unlike the wrongful death claim, it is not for the value of the life of the deceased but rather for the expenses incurred by the Estate as a result of the injury and death of the individual. The survivorship claim also includes any pain and suffering by the loved one between the injury and death.
Georgia’s statute of limitations (the time limit to file a legal action) for wrongful death cases is generally two years from death. If a case is not filed in that time frame, it will probably be forever barred. While there are some exceptions to this rule, the practical reality is that if a loved one is seriously injured and may die or has already died due to the actions, or failure to act, of others, you should contact Alderman & Hutcherson as soon as practicable. As time passes, it may become more difficult to investigate your claims, gather evidence and interview witnesses.
If your loved one is seriously ill or injured, it may be critically important that we speak to him or her to get a first-hand account of the incident, what happened, who was involved and the names of witnesses. If the person is well enough, he or she may be able to put testimony on the record through a deposition, where the party answers questions under oath posed by attorneys for both sides.
If a family member has been seriously injured, made seriously ill or died because of the negligent, intentional or criminal acts of another, contact our office by calling (478) 476-9110 or by completing the online inquiry form. Alderman & Hutcherson can help your family during through this difficult time. We will protect your rights and deal with insurance companies, government agencies and the legal system so you can focus on caring for your family after the loss of your loved one.