To prove a wrongful death occurred, you must prove the person or entity responsible acted negligently. Surviving family members may pursue a civil case under the wrongful death statutes in Georgia.
A wrongful death occurs when the actions or inaction of another directly or indirectly cause the untimely loss of human life. Wrongful deaths can result from auto accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, nursing home abuse, and any situation where a death occurs due to another’s negligence or recklessness.
Defining Wrongful Death
In Georgia, death is considered wrongful if it results from a crime, criminal negligence, a defective product, or other negligence. In addition, if a death is caused by the actions of another, willfully or accidentally, and can be considered negligent, it is a wrongful death.
Wrongful death could be prosecuted as a homicide if it happened in conjunction with a crime. Since many wrongful death cases are not homicides, they fall under the civil court realm. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is the prosecutor’s responsibility, who must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove liability “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
In some cases, the civil proceeding can occur at the same time as criminal proceedings for the same death.
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Establishing the Elements of Negligence
The most significant part of proving a wrongful death case is establishing the defendant acted negligently. The four elements of negligence are:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
Duty of Care
Duty of care describes a person’s responsibility to act a certain way or perform a specific action. For instance, every driver has a duty of care to follow the rules of the road. Doctors have a responsibility to provide proper medical care to their patients. Property owners should maintain their property in fair repair. Manufacturers should produce products free of defects.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff (you) must demonstrate the defendant had a legal duty of care. Once you establish this point, you must prove they failed to uphold their duty.
Breach of Duty
To establish a breach of duty, you must prove a defendant failed to perform a legal obligation. For driving, if they were issued a citation for speeding or reckless driving, the task is easy. In medical malpractice cases, discussing the matter with medical professionals may be necessary to determine if a doctor breached their duty.
The bar of comparison on this determination is whether a “reasonably prudent person” would have treated the circumstance differently. For medical malpractice, the court will examine the facts of the case and the information known at the time of the alleged breach.
Suppose a “reasonably prudent person” would have recommended a different treatment or approach in that same situation. In that case, the doctor may have breached their duty to provide adequate medical care.
This element establishes the relationship between the breach of duty and wrongful death. You must show the negligence of the defendant caused the death. An example would be if the defendant was speeding, and the collision caused the death.
However, if the defendant was speeding at the time of the crash, but your loved one had a fatal heart attack, the defendant may not be found liable.
Damages can be financial, such as losing the primary provider within a family unit. Other damages include the unexpected expenses of a funeral and burial and final medical costs. Emotional loss can also be considered in this area. For a spouse, the loss of consortium (companionship), or for children, the loss of parental guidance is considered damage from the wrongful death.
Understanding the Compensation Available
Compensation in a wrongful death is structured as survival and wrongful death actions. Per O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2, survival actions relate to direct costs or losses for damages suffered by the victim before death.
This area of compensation covers pain and suffering and medical bills from care received after the accident. Survival actions are awarded to the estate.
Wrongful death actions compensate the family for the loss of their family member. These encompass the loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance, loss of financial support, and funeral costs. Compensation goes to the estate, then disseminated to the decedent’s beneficiaries.
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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Georgia specifies who can file a wrongful death lawsuit as:
- The surviving spouse
- Surviving children (if there is no surviving spouse)
- Parents of the deceased (if there is no surviving spouse or children)
- The designated administrator of the estate (executor)
When an executor files a claim, any awards are held by the estate for surviving next of kin.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney for More Info
Our wrongful death team at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers understands money will never replace your lost family member. However, we also believe an unexpected and wrongful death should not cause your family a financial tailspin.
For more information about filing a wrongful death lawsuit, don’t hesitate to contact our team for a free consultation. We will evaluate your case and assist your family in the financial aspects of your recovery.