How to Start the Process of Filing a Wrongful Death Suit in Georgia
If you have a loved one who died as a result of someone else’s negligence or deliberate act, you or someone else in the surviving family may have grounds to file a wrongful death suit. The process of filing a wrongful death suit in Georgia can be complicated, and you shouldn’t move forward with it without the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer. However, the following overview can serve as a roadmap so you know what is in front of you.
What Is wrongful death?“Wrongful death,” as defined by the laws of Georgia, is a situation in which someone’s death is caused by the actions of another which can be considered “negligent, reckless, intentional or criminal.” The offender may be either an individual or a business in this case. Wrongful death is a civil offense and should not be confused with the criminal charges of murder or manslaughter, which are prosecuted by the state. However, wrongful death claims may be filed in parallel with criminal charges, and even separate from criminal charges. To that end, claiming wrongful death is about more than just taking of a human life. It has to do with the financial and emotional suffering of those left behind who are impacted by the effects of the person’s death. Winning a wrongful death suit requires the offending party to make amends on behalf of the survivors, usually in the form of a settlement.
Who may file a wrongful death suit in Georgia?Georgia law has a specific hierarchy regarding who is legally entitled to file for wrongful death. If the first person in the hierarchy is unable to file the claim, the right passes to the next, and so on. The order of eligibility is:
- Surviving spouse;
- Surviving children, if there is no spouse;
- Surviving parents of the deceased, in the absence of surviving spouse/children;
- Next of kin, as designated by the deceased’s estate; and
- Administrator/executor of the estate, who may file on behalf of the survivors if no one else is available.
Who receives the settlement?In effect, a wrongful death suit takes the form of a personal injury claim, except that the person in question is no longer alive to receive the benefit. The settlement, therefore, usually passes to the deceased’s natural or stated heirs as compensation for financial losses incurred by that person’s absence, as well as pain and suffering awards. In most cases, the settlement is paid to the estate of the deceased to be distributed equally among surviving spouse and children. (In other words, you can’t file a wrongful death lawsuit and expect to receive the full settlement yourself. The idea is to compensate the entire family for the loss, not just a single person.) For this reason, in most cases, you will need to have a probate case open with the courts before filing a wrongful death suit, as the proceeds of any settlement may need to go through probate before being distributed.
Beginning the processIf you believe you or other surviving family members may be entitled to a wrongful death settlement on behalf of a lost loved one, here’s how to begin the process:
- Determine who (if anyone) is eligible to file for wrongful death, according to the hierarchy listed above.
- Gather evidence. This includes evidence of negligence as well as proof of loss. You must ultimately show the courts that the offending party directly contributed to your loved one’s death, as well as show evidence of the financial toll it has taken on the survivors. (Include medical bills, burial costs, proof of wages, etc.)
- Hire an experienced personal injury lawyer. Because wrongful death lawsuits can be complex, contentious and sometimes difficult to prove, you need an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the process.