This page is about Georgia wrongful death law. The purpose is to explain how the wrongful death statute works and who is eligible for either settlement compensation or a jury payout. We also explain the second cause of action in death cases, a survival action which provides a second path of compensation for the victim’s family
Georgia Wrongful Death Law
The state of Georgia, like all U.S. states, has laws that govern wrongful death claims. These are civil actions that are filed when one party’s negligence, misconduct, or criminal action results in the death of another. While the law cannot bring back the lost loved one, it aims to help compensate those who are left behind and to hold the responsible parties accountable. Understanding Georgia’s wrongful death laws can help survivors make informed decisions when seeking justice.
Definition and Purpose of Wrongful Death Claims
In Georgia, a wrongful death claim is defined under Georgia Code § 51-4-2. It involves a situation where the “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person/entity” causes the death of another person. A wrongful death claim can arise from various circumstances, such as medical malpractice, vehicular accidents due to negligence, criminal behavior, workplace accidents, or death resulting from a dangerous or defective product.
The main purpose of a wrongful death claim is to provide financial compensation for the surviving family members of the deceased, to cover their financial and emotional losses caused by their loved one’s death. It is also meant to deter similar negligent or wrongful conduct in the future by holding the responsible parties accountable.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia?
The Georgia wrongful death statute is specific about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The surviving spouse of the deceased person has the first right to file a wrongful death claim.
If there is no surviving spouse, the deceased person’s children have the right to file the claim. In the absence of a spouse or children, the deceased’s parents or the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate may file the lawsuit.
The Georgia Wrongful Death Act has no differentiation between minor and adult children when it comes to the entitlement to compensation for wrongful death.
If the surviving spouse files the claim and there are also surviving children, the spouse must represent the interests of the children in the claim. But the surviving spouse controls the case and can make the decision to settle a wrongful death lawsuit without needing the children to agree (or needing the court’s permission).
Regardless of the number of children, the spouse cannot receive less than a third of the total recovery.
Damages in a Georgia Wrongful Death Claim
Under Georgia law, two types of claims can be filed in a wrongful death case. The first is the “full value of the life” claim which is typically filed by the deceased’s family. This claim includes both tangible and intangible aspects of value. The tangible aspect includes the deceased person’s lost wages, benefits, and other income, considering what the person could have earned if they had lived. The intangible aspect includes non-economic facets like companionship, care, and other elements of the relationship the survivors had with the deceased.
Georgia Survival Actions
Historically, common law did not allow personal injury claims to “survive” the death of a person. However, this doctrine changed with the evolution of survival statutes, which now permit claims for personal injuries to be pursued even after the victim’s death. These statutes essentially allow for the “survival” of personal injury claims that could have been filed had the victim lived.
O.C.G.A. § 9-2-41 states that “all causes of action upon which any person who might be a plaintiff of action may have against any person within this state shall survive to the personal representative of the former and against the person, executor, or administrator of the latter.” This provision explicitly allows personal injury claims to survive the death of a potential plaintiff.
Survival Actions Vs. Wrongful Death Claims
Both survival actions and wrongful death claims are for compensation for the surviving family. But they serve different purposes and compensate for different types of damages. A wrongful death claim in Georgia seeks to compensate for the full value of the life of the deceased, measuring it from the decedent’s perspective. It is for the survivors’ loss. It includes lost wages, loss of companionship, and all of the awfulness that comes with losing a loved one.
In contrast, a survival action compensates for the suffering endured by the decedent from the time of injury until their death. It is the claim that might have had if they lived. A survival action in Georgia seeks damages for medical expenses, funeral costs, and the conscious pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their died.
Damages Recoverable Under Survival Actions
A survival action can recover a range of damages, although these are limited to the period between the victim’s injury and their death. For instance, if a person suffered a serious injury due to someone else’s negligence and incurred significant medical bills before succumbing to their injuries, a survival action could seek to recover these expenses. In addition, if the deceased experienced conscious pain and suffering before death – often a huge part of the settlement compensation in these claims – these damages are also ecoverable.
The Administration of a Survival Action in Georgia
In Georgia, a survival action is brought by the administrator or executor of the deceased person’s estate. This person may be a family member, a close friend, or a legal professional, depending on the deceased person’s estate planning documents or the decision of the probate court and what the decedent’s will asked for.
Like wrongful death, Georgia law requires a survival action to be filed within two years of the date of the injury causing death. Failing to do so within this timeframe can result in the claim being barred due to the statute of limitations.
Georgia Wrongful Death Verdicts & Settlements
$19,800,000 Verdict (2023 Gwinnett County): In Douglasville, a Comcast van failed to stop at a red light, striking a man’s car at a speed of 55 mph. The impact was so severe that the car flipped and the driver was left with life-altering injuries. Over the course of 21 months, he underwent rehabilitation but, regrettably, his condition worsened and he passed away. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Comcast. The company accepted responsibility for the accident, the battlefield in this case was what the man’s life was work. A Gwinnett County jury found the man’s life was worth a great deal, awarding the family a settlement of nearly $19 million.
$10,500,000 Verdict (2023 Fulton County): A pregnant woman displaying symptoms of an infection arrived at a regional medical center. Despite being examined by a medical practitioner, she was discharged with no treatment. Tragically, when she was readmitted the next day, her twins were delivered stillborn. Her wrongful death lawsuit targeted the healthcare providers and the institutions they represented, alleging their negligence resulted in the untimely deaths of the patient’s unborn children. The jury awarded $5.25 million for each child, totaling $10.5 million.
$2,000,000 Settlement (2023 DeKalb County): A man working a farming jo was killed while helping his boss connect a peanut wagon to a truck. The employer inadvertently hit the gas, causing the truck to reverse suddenly and pin the worker between the truck and the peanut wagon, resulting in his immediate death at the site. As the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act does not include farm laborers and companies with fewer than three employees, this incident does not qualify for workers’ compensation.
$7,000,000 Verdict (2022 Fulton County): This wrongful death and survival action was brought after a woman suffered fatal injuries when the vehicle she was driving made a left turn at an intersection on a green arrow and was struck on the driver’s side by an SUV operated by the defendant who was driving within the scope of his employment at the time. The defendant ran a red light and was found to be negligent in causing the accident.
$7,700,000 Verdict (2022 Gwinnett County): 56-year-old female was killed when her car was hit by a tractor trailer owned by ABF Freight Systems. The truck driver was negligent in making an unsafe lane change. The decedent survived for over 2.5 months after the collision, having sustained a brain bleed, abdominal injuries with internal bleeding and lacerations to her liver and spleen.
$15,319,500 Verdict (2022 Gwinett County): 77-year-old female with a history of stroke and multiple pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, dementia, vascular disease and a deteriorating gastrointestinal tract, died while suffering from sepsis due to an infected sacral pressure ulcer while under the care of defendant nursing home facility. Nursing home was accused of grossly negligent care.
$127,019,343 Verdict (2021 N.D. Ga.): a 38-year-old male, suffered conscious pain and suffering and fatal head injuries subsequent to a collision that occurred when the vehicle he was operating, equipped with an occupant restraint system designed and manufactured by defendant auto company. Lawsuit alleged that the defendant was negligent in defectively designing the occupant restraint system as the airbags failed to deploy and the seatbelt spooled out approximately 20 inches during the collision, causing the decedent’s face to strike the steering wheel despite the fact that he was properly wearing the seatbelt.
$2,100,000 Settlement (2020 M.D. Ga.): Wrongful death for failure to timely diagnose cancer. Lawsuit claimed that the physician that ordered the pap smear, failed to notify the decedent of her abnormal pap smear results, which showed atypical squamous cells, and when she returned to the offices following the abnormal pap, the health center physician that ordered the pap smear falsely represented to the decedent that her pap smears were all normal.
$430,000 Settlement (2019 Fulton County): This wrongful death action was brought when an adult male died reportedly when he was operating a northbound scooter at an intersection and his scooter was struck by a police vehicle driven by a non-party police officer within the course and scope of his employment with defendant City of Atlanta. Lawsuit was filed against the city of Atlanta.
Hire a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer
Call 800-553-8082 if you are looking to maximize the jury payout or settlement amount of your wrongful death claim in Georgia.