In Georgia, a wrongful death is defined as a death caused by the negligent, reckless, intentional or criminal actions of another person, business or government entity. There are some fundamental differences between wrongful death cases and standard personal injury cases.
The most obvious difference is the victim is unable to bring their own case to court, leaving it to the victim’s family to bring the case on their behalf. The types of damages awarded can be slightly different as well, and the calculations can be significantly impacted as a result.
How to Prove the Negligent Party Was Responsible for the Death
From a procedural standpoint, wrongful death cases and personal injury cases have a lot in common. The primary goal of a wrongful death attorney is to prove the defendant’s negligent actions resulted in the death of the plaintiff’s loved one.
Litigating the case is very similar. A wrongful death attorney must investigate the case by interviewing witnesses, documenting the accident scene, collecting evidence and creating a clear, accurate narrative of events that show how the defendant’s reckless, negligent or criminal actions caused the wrongful death.
If medical malpractice was involved, the same rules as a normal personal injury medical malpractice case would apply. The wrongful death attorney would need to work with an appropriate doctor or medical professional to establish a standard duty of care that the victim’s doctor failed to deliver.
The family or estate’s attorney would then most likely begin negotiating with the plaintiff’s legal team, whether that be the defendant’s own lawyer or a team of insurance company attorneys. If the wrongful death attorney has a strong case, they may be able to get a settlement without needing to go to trial. If the defendant doesn’t want to settle, a wrongful death trial would proceed similar to a personal injury trial.
The Differences Between a Personal Injury Case and a Wrongful Death Case
The primary ways wrongful death cases differ from personal injury cases has to do with the types of damages and the distributions of those damages.
In a personal injury case, for example, long-term care costs can play a huge role in damages. If a person will require round-the-clock care for the remainder of their life, the damages awarded for medical costs can be quite high. In a wrongful death case, the only medical-related damages are likely to be the costs of the life-saving emergency medical care administered to the victim in the immediate aftermath of the injury.
Wrongful death cases usually include the cost of funeral expenses as well.
Lost wages can also be significantly different in a wrongful death case. There are some personal injury cases where the injured party may never be able to return to work again, or at least they can’t return to their previous job because of their injury. In most personal injury cases, however, lost wages will only cover the period the injured party was unable to work while they were recovering from their injury.
In a wrongful death case, the victim will never be able to return to work. If they were the primary source of income for their family, the family could seek damages for not only the deceased’s estimated income for their remaining working year, but also raises, bonuses and other forms of compensation that are now permanently lost due to the death.
However, if the wrongful death victim had no family or dependents, then there will be no damages awarded for lost wages because there is no surviving party who was reliant on the victim’s income. When a minor who doesn’t work is killed due to negligence, the victim’s parents will not be able to collect lost wages because there is no way to estimate what those damages would be and the child doesn’t have any dependents relying on their income.
One of the types of damages that are much more common in wrongful death cases are loss of consortium damages. These damages are compensation for much more intangible aspects of the deceased’s life, such as the companionship, care and emotional support they can no longer provide to their family.
Developing an appropriate valuation for loss of consortium damages can be difficult, and it’s likely one of the main ways wrongful death cases vary from personal injury cases. For example, if the wrongful death victim and their spouse were not getting along and considering divorce, the loss of consortium damages awarded could be significantly less than those awarded to a spouse who was very close to their loved one, had a happy, healthy marriage and will suffer greater pain as a result of the death.
That means proving the health and intimacy of a marriage often becomes a much larger focal point of a wrongful death trial than it would in a personal injury case.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Complaint and Who Collects?
Wrongful death claims can be filed by a spouse, a third-party on behalf of surviving children, the deceased party’s parents or a representative of the wrongful death victim’s estate.
In Georgia, the victim’s spouse is entitled to a minimum of one third of the compensation won, either in a settlement or from a trial verdict. Even if the deceased had five children, the spouse would receive one third and the five children would split the other two thirds.
Get Wrongful Death Representation in Atlanta, GA
If your family has recently lost a loved one due to the negligent, criminal or reckless actions of another individual, business or municipality, the wrongful death attorneys at the Law Office of Johnny Phillips are ready to fight for you. Call our office at 833.564.6693 to request a free case evaluation. We look forward to advocating for the compensation your family deserves for the unfair loss you’ve suffered.