There is no specific figure or minimum that can be provided when it comes to a wrongful death settlement. Many factors must be considered when determining compensation for the life and loss of a loved one.
Some of the expenses that can be recouped or recovered after a wrongful death include:
- Funeral costs (burial, cremation, etc.)
- Medical costs (surgery, medicine, autopsy, etc.)
- Pain and suffering of the deceased pre-death
- Emotional suffering
- Future lost wages of the deceased
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of consortium
Filing a wrongful death claim can be a complicated, lengthy process depending on the cause of death and how difficult the insurance company is to negotiate with. In some cases, it may be necessary to sue the negligent or malicious party in court in order for a family to recover a settlement for a wrongful death claim.
How Is a Settlement Divided Up in a Wrongful Death Claim?
According to the Official Code of Georgia Section 51-4-2, the surviving spouse holds any amount recovered subject to the law of descents (i.e., as though it is property to be distributed to the spouse and children).
Regardless of the number of children, at no time shall the spouse’s recovery be less than ⅓. If there are surviving minor children, and the recovery is less than $15,000, the surviving spouse “shall hold and use such money for the benefit of the child and shall be accountable for same.”
If the recovery for the minor child exceeds $15,000, then the money “shall be held by a guardian of the property for such child.” There may be times when a beneficiary does not have the mental nor physical capacity to receive the benefits and the court may appoint a guardian to oversee the funds.
It is important to note that in a wrongful death action, the money which is recovered by the surviving spouse in a settlement or verdict does not become a part of the decedent’s estate. Therefore, it is not subject to any debts or liabilities the deceased may have had while alive.
Keep in mind that there are two types of wrongful death claims that can be filed: estate and full value.
What Damages Can the Estate Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Estate claims in Georgia are brought by the victim’s estate to seek compensation for the monetary costs associated with the victim’s death.
An estate claim can only be brought by the decedent’s estate to remedy the financial losses related to the person’s death, including:
- any medical expenses that relate to their injury (or illness);
- funeral and burial expenses;
- and conscious pain and suffering endured by the decedent after the accident or event and before their death.
Under Georgia law, a person who dies immediately in a collision is unlikely to have their estate awarded damages for pain and suffering. However, someone who survives an accident or assault but succumbs to their injuries later would qualify for damages. Monetary compensation may even be awarded in cases where the deceased victim was alive for a few seconds after the incident.
The decedent’s estate must be established by a probate court (or some other court with jurisdiction) to enable the personal representative to recover these expenses. The rules of inheritance in Georgia set forth that if the decedent left a will, only the administrator named in the will may bring a claim. If the victim died without a will, then the Georgia laws of inheritance (O.C.G.A 53-2-1) determines who can make a claim.
Georgia courts have not allowed punitive damages (those sought to punish the defendant for bad conduct or deter them from repeating these acts in the future) in a wrongful death claim. However, these damages may be sought on behalf of the estate if the defendant’s conduct was malicious, intentional, or showed a conscious or callous disregard for the deceased’s well-being or safety. Examples could include the defendant driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a car accident which causes the decedent’s injuries and death.
What Does “Full Value of the Life of the Decedent” Mean?
Every life has intrinsic value, so it’s difficult to think of a person’s life and its worth in terms of money. Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act ensures that the civil justice system provides a pathway to compensation for surviving family members to overcome financial hardships arising from the loss of a loved one. It also is a way to hold the person or company responsible for the death of a loved one.
A claim for the full value of the life of the decedent can be made by the surviving spouse and/or children. If there is no spouse or minor children, the decedent’s parents have the right to bring a wrongful death claim. Finally, if there are no parents, a personal representative of the estate may take up the cause of the deceased individual.
The damages sought in a wrongful death action may include items such as loss of earnings, companionship, support, etc. Any liens against the estate claim must be satisfied or paid before any money can be liquidated and distributed.
How to Find the Best Lawyer to Help With a Wrongful Death Claim
At Gary Martin Hays & Associates, our expertise lies in the following areas for wrongful death claims in Georgia:
- Investigating the claim to find all potential target defendants.
- Maximizing the financial recovery for the surviving family members against all of these defendants.
Once this is done, our firm engages attorneys who are specialists in estate law so they can maximize the net recovery for the financial benefit of our clients.
There are so many potential pitfalls that can arise in this area. The only way to truly know how to protect your financial settlement/award is to have a thorough, detailed consultation with an estate lawyer.
We have worked with many attorneys whom we know and respect in this practice area and can make this process seamless for our clients.
Bottom line: if you want to maximize your net recovery and pursue justice, talk to our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys today.