When one person dies as a result of someone else's accidental or intentional action in Georgia, the deceased person's family or estate could be entitled to file a wrongful death claim. This article explains:
Under Georgia law, a "wrongful death" occurs in "all cases in which the death of a human being results from a crime, from criminal or other negligence, or from property which has been defectively manufactured, whether or not as the result of negligence." (Ga. Code § 51-4-1 (2021).)
In other words, a wrongful death occurs when one person dies as a result of the legal fault of another person or entity, including by:
Read more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.
As we've discussed, with a wrongful death lawsuit, the family or the estate brings a legal action seeking compensation for losses (financial and personal) resulting from the deceased person's death.
A Georgia "survival action" is a distinct kind of lawsuit in which the executor or personal representative of a deceased person's estate seeks compensation for pain and other harm experienced by the deceased as a result of the defendant's wrongdoing. (Survival actions are covered under Ga. Code § 9-2-41 (2021).)
It might help to think of a survival action as a lawsuit brought on behalf of the deceased person, seeking compensation for the losses they suffered and could have sued for if they had survived.
For example, let's say the deceased person was seriously injured in a car accident, but didn't succumb to their injuries until two weeks after the crash. Afterward, a survival action would seek to hold the defendant liable for the deceased's medical bills, pain and suffering and other related losses, starting from the time of the accident and continuing until the deceased person's death. These losses (called "damages" in the language of the law), which are centered around the deceased person, aren't compensable in a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit. We'll discuss damages in wrongful death lawsuits below.
Georgia law determines who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, according to the following order:
Under Georgia law, no other family member—such as a sibling or grandparent—is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit; only the individuals listed above may file the claim. If an executor brings the claim, any damages recovered are held by the estate for the benefit of the deceased person's next of kin. (Ga. Code §§ 19-7-1, 51-4-2, 51-4-4, 51-4-5 (2021).)
In a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the court orders the defendant to pay "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—to the deceased person's survivors or estate. In Georgia, there are two categories of losses that can be sought in a wrongful death claim. The first category seeks to compensate surviving family for the "full value of the life of the decedent," which can include both economic and intangible factors, such as:
The second category of damages is intended to compensate the deceased person's estate for financial losses related to the death. This claim must be brought by the deceased person's executor and can include compensation for:
(Ga. Code §§ 51-4-4, 51-4-5 (2021).)
Learn more about how much a wrongful death case might be worth.
Like other lawsuits, wrongful death claims must be filed within a certain period of time, set by a law known as a "statute of limitations." In most cases, Georgia wrongful death claims must be filed within two years from the date of the death. If the lawsuit is not filed within the two-year time period, the right to bring it is almost always lost. (Ga. Code § 9-3-33 (2021).)
It's important to note that the two-year clock can be "tolled"—or temporarily stopped—in the following situations.
If the death was the result of a crime. If a criminal case results from the same events as the wrongful death case, the statute of limitations on the wrongful death case is suspended until the criminal case is completed, up to a maximum of six years. The two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death begins to run on the date the criminal case is resolved. (Ga. Code § 9-3-99 (2021).)
When the deceased person's estate has not been probated. Georgia law allows the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases to be tolled for up to five years if the deceased person's estate is not probated. (Ga. Code § 9-3-92 (2021).)
There are some kinds of injury claims that don't necessarily require a lawyer's expertise and assistance, but a wrongful death lawsuit isn't usually one of them. Wrongful death claims can be complicated from both a legal and procedural standpoint, especially when the time comes to attach an economic value to different categories of losses when calculating damages.
A Georgia injury lawyer will have the knowledge to apply complex state laws to your situation, the experience to put your best case together against the defendant, and the expertise to make sure you get the best result. Learn more about finding, hiring, and working with a personal injury lawyer. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a Georgia injury lawyer near you.