Depending on what caused the accident, proving wrongful death could be simple or very difficult. To prove a wrongful death occurred, surviving loved ones must prove the responsible person or entity was negligent in their actions.
A wrongful death occurs when the action or inaction of another directly or indirectly causes the untimely loss of human life. Wrongful deaths can result from auto accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, nursing home abuse, or any other situation where a death occurs due to another’s negligence or recklessness.
If you are struggling to prove wrongful death, you may benefit from the assistance of a wrongful death lawyer.
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, civil proceedings 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 with reasonable care when performing 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 claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant had a legal duty of care. Once this point is established, then it must be proven that they failed to uphold their duty.
Breach of Duty
To establish a breach of duty, you must prove a defendant failed to uphold their legal obligation. If they break the law, then it will be easier to prove a breach of duty. For instance, if the at-fault party was driving and they were issued a citation for speeding or reckless driving, then proving their breach of duty is simple. In other more complicated situations, it may be necessary to speak with professionals and expert witnesses to determine whether or not there was a breach of duty.
Medical malpractice cases can be difficult because determining if there was a breach of duty comes down to whether or not other reasonable physicians would have treated the situation differently. If your loved one was the victim of medical malpractice, then 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 and would thus be negligent in their actions.
This element establishes the relationship between the breach of duty and wrongful death. You must show the negligent conduct of the defendant caused your loved one’s 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 a motor vehicle accident, but your loved one had a fatal heart attack, the defendant may not be found liable.
To prove causation, your wrongful death attorney will review eyewitness testimonies, photographs, and video footage, then speak with professionals who can help determine whether or not the death was a direct result of the liable party’s negligent actions.
Recovering financial compensation following the death of a loved one is of the utmost importance to surviving family members. If the loved one was a primary provider within the family unit, then this compensation could be what the family needs to survive.
Damages can be financial such as loss of income, funeral expenses, burial expenses, and final medical costs. Other damages include funeral and burial costs and final medical expenses. 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.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
According to (O.C.G.A.) § 51-4-2, the following parties are able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- 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.
Only one wrongful death lawsuit can be filed. If the deceased person leaves behind a spouse or children, their parents would not be able to file their own lawsuit unless unique circumstances arise.
O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 states that surviving loved ones have two years from the date of the wrongful death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If you are concerned that certain family members are not willing to file within this timeframe, then you should speak with a lawyer about your family’s options.
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Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney for Help
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, do not hesitate to contact our team for a free consultation. We will evaluate your case and explain how hard it will be to prove wrongful death in your particular situation.