Damages Available in a Georgia Wrongful Death Claim

The wrongful death of a loved one will take years to get over. Death is hard enough when expected, but when it comes as that result of negligence that could have been prevented, it is hard to handle.

Mourning the loss of a loved one – particularly when the death was unexpected – can be overwhelming. While monetary compensation cannot bring the person back to life, it often helps the family cope with the sudden loss by easing the financial burden that often follows. Georgia law allows for several types and amounts of damages which may be recovered in a wrongful death case. The final award is as unique as the parties involved in the case, but there are some universal truths. Georgia’s wrongful death law is complicated. Those who have suffered the unexpected and tragic death of a loved one should focus on mourning and let the skilled Atlanta wrongful death lawyers at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law handle your case during this difficult time.

Recoverable Damages in a Georgia Wrongful Death Claim

Georgia law mandates that all damages – or monetary compensation awards – be directly related to the deceased’s injury and resulting death. Damages suffered by surviving family members due to the untimely death of a parent, spouse, or child are not considered relevant or compensable. Under state law, there are three (3) general categories of damages which may be sought in a Georgia lawsuit that involves injuries that are fatal:

  1. Funeral expenses, medical costs, and other necessary expenses resulting from the injury or death of the deceased;
  2. medical expenses, pain and suffering incurred by the deceased, and other damages that arise during the time period between the deceased’s injury and his or her subsequent death; and
  3. Full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence;

Wrongful Death Damages Explained

In any Georgia wrongful death case, the full value of the life of the deceased is the heavyweight claim and much more important than the estate claim. A claim for this cause of action may only be brought by a family member who is authorized under Georgia law to assert the claim under the state’s Wrongful Death Act. This claim for damages automatically vests with the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased. The deceased’s estate may seek recovery for funeral expenses, medical costs, and other necessary expenses as well as pain and suffering. This action must be filed as a separate and distinct claim.

Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act clearly states the sole measure of damages is the “full value of life”. There is little to no guidance in the statute, however, as to how to measure this. Consequently, over time Georgia appellate courts have determined the full value of the life of the deceased can be determined through two different components: economic and non-economic. The economic component includes the present value of the deceased’s future earnings and/or services that would have been realized over his or her normal life expectancy. The non-economic component, on the other hand, includes intangible elements that are difficult to prove and instead are determined by a jury.

In regard to punitive damages, Georgia courts have repeatedly held that these types of damages are not recoverable in connection with a wrongful death claim because the wrongful death action itself if designed to punish negligent murder. It would be redundant.  There is an exception, however. Punitive damages may be included in the estate claim if the defendant’s conduct was malicious, intentional, or showed a callous disregard for the deceased’s well being or safety.