Wrongful Death and Accident Death Cases

Who can bring a lawsuit for wrongful death?

Georgia law is very specific regarding who can bring a wrongful death claim when a family member has been killed due to the negligence of others, whether its from a car accident or a defective product, or otherwise. In most situations, the only people who can bring an action to recover for wrongful death are the following:

  • A surviving spouse for the death of a spouse
  • A child or children for the death of a parent
  • A parent or parents for the death of a child
  • The administrator or executor of the estate for the benefit of the next of kin

This list of eligible family members is in priority order but there is some overlap in the case of a surviving spouse with children of the decedent. Only if there is no surviving spouse or children can the parents initiate a claim for the loss of their child.

What types of compensation are recoverable in a wrongful death case?

Georgia law allows a family member to recover for the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.” Factors which may be used to determine this value could include:

  • Age at time of death
  • Projected life expectancy had the person not been killed
  • Potential future earning capacity
  • Role and value in the family as provider, caregiver, companion, etc.

In addition to a family member recovering for the full value of the life of the decedent, the administrator of the estate can also bring an action to recover for funeral and burial expenses, medical bills incurred as a result of the injuries that resulted in death, and the pain and suffering the individual experienced prior to his/her death. The pain and suffering component may even be predicated on merely a second or two of fear or terror the individual experienced just prior to the incident—knowing it was about to happen. These proceeds would then be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries according to the law.

What is a Survival action?

Sometimes a person who is injured in an accident dies as a result of the injuries occurred sometime after the accident, whether it is hours, days or even months later. The injured person may even have started a personal injury lawsuit but did not live to see it settled or taken to trial. In that situation, in addition to any wrongful death action brought by the immediate family, the administrator or executor of the estate can continue the personal injury lawsuit already filed, or bring a survival action on behalf of the deceased. The damages available in a survival action include all of the damages typically available in a personal injury case, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages where applicable

Since the defendants and most of the factual and legal issues are the same in both cases, survival actions are typically filed along with wrongful death actions, and the two lawsuits are joined or tried together in one proceeding.

How long does someone have to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

In general, the period of time to file a claim for wrongful death in Georgia in most cases is two years from the date of the incident. There are many exceptions to this rule that may make it shorter or longer. Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side will help make sure important deadlines are not overlooked and that your lawsuit is not dismissed on a technicality.