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Wrongful Death

Wrongful Death Lawyers Marietta Ga

WHAT IS A WRONGFUL DEATH?

A “wrongful death” occurs when a person is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity. A wrongful death claim may arise out of a number of circumstances, such as in the following situations:

  • Medical malpractice that results in decedent’s death;
  • Automobile or airplane accident;
  • Occupational exposure to hazardous conditions or substances;
  • Criminal behavior, such as intentional acts like murder;
  • Death during a supervised activity; and,
  • A negligent or careless act such as carelessly leaving a dangerous object in the road.

WHAT IS A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim which sets forth that the victim was killed as a result of negligence or intentional conduct (or other type of unjust action) on the part of the person or entity being sued, and the victim’s survivors are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the intentional or negligent conduct. The idea behind a wrongful death lawsuit is that the wrongful death, in addition to injuring the person who died, also injured people who depended upon the deceased for financial or emotional support.

In a wrongful death civil action in the State of Georgia, there are generally usually two separate claims. First, there is the claim for “wrongful death” which belongs to the decedent’s surviving family (as discussed below). Second, depending upon the circumstances of the case, there is the claim for “pain and suffering” by the decedent before death, which belongs to the decedent’s estate (also discussed below).

WHO IS ENTITLED TO FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT IN THE STATE OF GEORGIA?

An action for wrongful death belongs to the decedent’s immediate family members, which are usually the surviving spouse and children, and sometimes parents. Every state has a civil “wrongful death statute,” or set of statutes, which establish the procedures for bringing wrongful death actions.

Actions for personal injury, conscious pain and suffering, or expenses incurred prior to the decedent’s death are brought by the representative of the decedent’s estate. The damage award for the decedent’s pain and suffering belongs to the estate and may pass to different parties as directed by the decedent’s will or by state law if the decedent did not leave a will.

In Georgia, the party or parties entitled to maintain a “wrongful death” action is determined by statute which sets forth that a wrongful death action may be maintained primarily by three different persons or groups: (1) surviving spouse or children, (2) parents, and (3) the decedent’s personal representatives. If the decedent leaves a spouse and/or children, the right of recovery belongs to the spouse and children, which means that the spouse must file the wrongful death action and act as both an individual (as a surviving spouse) and as a representative for the surviving children. If the decedent has no spouse or children, then the right of recovery passes to the decedent’s parents. If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children or parents, then the law provides a “fail safe” provision which permits the decedent’s “personal representative” to bring the action. A personal representative is a person recognized and appointed by the appropriate Georgia Probate Court, who is empowered to make decisions regarding the decedent’s estate.

WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL ELEMENTS OF A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?

In order to bring a successful wrongful death cause of action, the following elements must be present:

  • The death of a human being;
  • Caused by another’s negligence, or with intent to cause harm;
  • The survival of family members who are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death, and;
  • The appointment of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate.

WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL TYPES OF DAMAGES INVOLVED WITH A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?

Compensatory Damages. Compensatory Damages, which are intended to make restitution for the amount of money lost, are the most common type of damages awarded in a wrongful death action. Plaintiffs who prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit may recover medical and funeral expenses in addition to the amount of economic support they could have received if the decedent had lived and, in some instances, a sum of money to compensate for grief or loss of services or companionship.

Determining the amount of damages in a wrongful death action requires taking into account many variables. To compute compensation, the salary that the decedent could have earned may be multiplied by the number of years he most likely would have lived and can be adjusted for various factors, including inflation. Standard actuarial tables serve as guides for the life expectancy of particular groups identified by age or gender. The decedent’s mental and physical health, along with the nature of his work, may also be taken into consideration by a jury.
Damages cannot always be calculated on the basis of potential earnings because not everyone is employed.

Pain and Suffering. Can someone sue for the pain and suffering of a decedent? The answer is usually, yes. In addition to damages for wrongful death, a decedent’s family may be able to recover damages for personal injury to the decedent by and through an estate which is created for the decedent. These are sometimes called “survival actions,” since the personal injury action survives the person who suffered the injury. The decedent’s personal representative can bring such an action for the benefit of the decedent’s estate. As part of the claim for a decedent’s conscious pain and suffering, the jury may consider a wide variety of things to determine the amount of damages, including: 1) the degree of consciousness; 2) severity of pain; and, 3) apprehension of impending death, along with the duration of such suffering.

Punitive Damages. Punitive Damages may be awarded in a wrongful death case if the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or heinous. Punitive damages are a means of punishing the defendant for his action and are awarded at the discretion of the jury. Any damages recovered are distributed among the survivors subject statutes.

WHAT IS A FAMOUS EXAMPLE OF A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?

In 1997, in the wrongful death action brought against O. J. Simpson by the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, the former football star was required to pay a total of $33.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Although he was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife and Goldman, a Superior Court jury in Santa Monica, California, found him liable for their deaths. As a result, Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate received an award of $12.5 million, while Goldman’s estate received $13.475 million and Sharon Rufo, Goldman’s mother, received $7.525 million. Simpson retained custody of his two children with Nicole; the children were beneficiaries of her estate.

WE CAN HELP

If a loved one has died after an accident or injury caused by the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity, you may be entitled to bring a legal action for wrongful death against those responsible. Especially in light of time deadlines for filing such a lawsuit, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible, to discuss your legal rights and your potential case. The attorneys of Jackel & Phillips are trained and experienced with the many different aspects of successfully asserting and concluding a wrongful death claim. We are here to help so please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your case free of charge.