Whenever an accident has fatal consequences, the deceased’s surviving family members often suffer numerous financial and personal losses on top of their heartache and grief. Demanding fair recovery for damages of this nature can be both emotionally and legally complex, especially if you try to pursue legal action on your own.
Assistance from a Columbus wrongful death lawyer could make a huge difference in your ability to effectively enforce your rights after the unexpected loss of a family member. Beyond helping you build the strongest claim possible based on all available evidence, your dedicated personal injury attorney could also guide you around the various procedural obstacles that could otherwise sidetrack your case.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?
In Georgia, a wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the negligent act of a person or other entity. It doesn’t matter if the action was intentional or unintentional. If someone is killed due to negligence, the law allows family members to pursue compensation for the “full value of life of the decedent.”
All individuals have a legal obligation to act responsibly to prevent others from harm. Negligence occurs when a person acts carelessly, disregarding their duty to keep others safe. Examples of careless acts that can lead to wrongful death include:
- Impaired driving
- Distracted driving
- Medical malpractice
- Failing to eliminate hazardous conditions on a property
- Nursing home abuse and neglect
- Designing, manufacturing, and selling defective products or dangerous drugs
Negligence frequently plays a role in wrongful death claims. However, wrongful death claims could also be brought for a death caused by criminal activity, which is typically intentional. Common examples of crimes that can cause the death of another include assault and murder.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In Georgia, certain surviving family members of the deceased person can take legal action against the responsible party through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death is not a criminal matter. Wrongful death lawsuits are litigated in civil court. While criminal charges could potentially be brought against the perpetrator if they committed a crime that resulted in your loved one’s death, the state would bring those charges in criminal court, which is separate from a civil court case.
In civil court, the possible penalty for wrongful death is exclusively financial, and the burden of proof is lower. You merely need to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant contributed to the victim’s death.
The Four Key Elements of Wrongful Death Claims
To file a strong Columbus wrongful death claim, you or your attorney will need to prove that the at-fault party was liable for your loved one’s untimely death. There are four primary elements to a wrongful death case:
- Negligence ― First, you need to establish that the defendant acted negligently. For instance, if your loved one was killed in a car accident caused by a texting driver, you could use cell phone records, traffic camera footage, witness statements, and other evidence to show that they were negligent.
- Breach of duty ― You need to be able to prove that the defendant had a duty to protect your loved one from injury or death. For example, all motorists must safely operate their vehicles and obey all traffic laws. Failure to do this could constitute a breach of that duty.
- Causation ― Third, you must show that the defendant’s breach directly caused your loved one’s death. In the above scenario, you could argue that because the at-fault motorist was texting while driving, they caused the crash that ultimately killed your family member.
- Losses ― Finally, you must demonstrate to the court that your family suffered compensable losses due to your loved one’s sudden death. These losses could be financial or non-financial.
Through a wrongful death lawsuit, you could recover compensation for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, loss of income and lost future earnings, loss of domestic services, loss of companionship, loss of love, guidance, and inheritance, and pain and suffering.
Eligibility to File a Columbus Wrongful Death Claim
According to Official Code of Georgia §51-4-2, the right to file civil litigation based on a family member’s wrongful death belongs exclusively to the decedent’s spouse if they survive, or to the decedent’s surviving children if there is no surviving spouse. Though, O.C.G.A. §51-4-4 grants the parent(s) or guardian(s) of a minor child who loses their life due to negligence or wrongful conduct to file such a claim in their child’s name. If none of the aforementioned parties survive to file suit, the decedent’s estate representative may proceed with litigation in accordance with O.C.G.A. §51-4-5.
Whoever has standing to pursue wrongful death litigation on a deceased person’s behalf may demand compensation for various economic and non-economic losses sustained by surviving beneficiaries of the decedent, including:
- Lost future financial support from the decedent
- Lost household services
- Lost companionship and love
- Lost advice and counsel
A claim brought by a deceased person’s estate representative may also demand restitution for various losses sustained by the decedent’s estate, such as:
- Medical bills for services rendered before the decedent’s death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Various other out-of-pocket expenses
A Columbus wrongful death attorney could go into more detail during a private consultation about what damages might be compensable in a particular situation.
Deadlines for Wrongful Death Litigation
The standard statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Columbus is the same two-year one set by O.C.G.A. §9-3-33 for most other types of personal injury litigation, with the applicable filing period beginning on the decedent’s death date. However, as a wrongful death lawyer in Columbus could explain, there are two situations worth discussing where the start of this period may be “tolled,” or paused.
First, as per O.C.G.A. §9-3-92, the statutory filing period for wrongful death litigation can be tolled for five years maximum so the decedent’s estate can go through probate. Second, as per O.C.G.A. §9-3-99, if a wrongful death results from a criminal act, the statutory filing period for civil litigation generally will not begin until related criminal proceedings conclude, up to a maximum of six years after the decedent’s death date.
A Compassionate Columbus Wrongful Death Attorney Could Help
Wrongful death litigation is never a simple endeavor, particularly in the weeks and months immediately after unexpectedly losing a loved one. Having help from seasoned legal counsel could make a huge difference not just in how efficiently you can get through the litigation process, but also in how much compensation you can recover through your claim.
Columbus wrongful death lawyer, David Bence, could discuss filing options and possible next steps over the course of a confidential meeting. Schedule yours by calling today.