If you have lost a loved one due to the negligent actions of another person or entity in Atlanta, Butler Wooten & Peak LLP may be able to help you file a wrongful death claim. We have been helping clients with wrongful death cases since 1988 and understand what your family may be going through.
When a loved one dies unexpectedly, it can be devastating both emotionally and financially. At Butler Wooten & Peak LLP, our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers have the skill, experience and resources you need during this difficult time. We are dedicated to helping people and never forget that fact. No amount of money can replace your loved one, but we can hold negligent parties accountable and fight for justice for your family. Contact our firm for a free and confidential case evaluation.
Georgia Code Title 51, Chapter 4 defines wrongful death as a death the criminal, reckless, negligent, or intentional acts of one person or entity cause. Certain people can bring a wrongful death claim if the circumstances leading up to the death were suspect – meaning there is reason to believe the death is a specific party’s fault. Wrongful death claims center on the same grounds as personal injury claims, except that the party did not survive his or her injuries.
The Georgia Wrongful Death Act has existed for more than 100 years, with several addendums added over the years. The five code sections of the Wrongful Death Act outline the various possible legal grounds for a wrongful death claim in Georgia, including:
In Georgia, you must be the deceased person’s spouse, adult child, parent, or personal representative of the estate in order to be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. You cannot file a claim if the decedent was simply your best friend. Personal representatives must transfer any damages recovered in a wrongful death case to the deceased person’s next of kin. If the deceased listed beneficiaries in his or her estate, the representative must follow those instructions in good faith and disburse the content of the estate to those beneficiaries. Most estates will outline how the inheritance transfers, should any of the beneficiaries be ineligible for disbursements.
According to Ga. Code Ann. § 9-3-20 et seq., the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Georgia is two years from the date of the death, in most cases. There are some exceptions, so speak with our attorneys if you have any questions. After the deadline passes, the courts will likely refuse to hear the case. If there is a criminal case involving the loved one’s death, the timeline for the civil claim pauses until the criminal case comes to completion.
Under Georgia law, claimants can recover damages in the amount of “the full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he or she lived”. Available damages aim to cover tangible and intangible damages the family and the decedent suffered. These include medical expenses, the decedent’s lost wages (including what he/she would have earned were it not for the untimely death), loss of care and companionship, burial/funeral costs, and the decedent’s pain and suffering up until the date of death.
If a spouse files a wrongful death claim for a decedent who did not have a will or estate plan with listed beneficiaries, Georgia law requires the spouse filing the claim to share the case award from a wrongful death claim with the couple’s children. Georgia law typically reserves one-third of the proceeds for the surviving spouse, and the children divide the remainder. However, if there is no will, no surviving children, spouse, or parents, then the executor of the decedent’s estate may pursue a wrongful death claim instead. If a settlement is to go to a surviving spouse and children under the age of 18, the parent or guardian will have custody of the minor children’s portions of the settlement until they reach 18 years of age.
In some cases, a defendant’s behavior is so grossly negligent or indifferent to the welfare of others that the jury may award punitive damages to further punish such actions. However, Georgia state law does not recognize or even mention punitive damages in Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act, so appellate judges in Georgia have repeatedly stated they will interpret it as strictly as possible. While plaintiffs cannot pursue punitive damages, such damages are available in connection with survival actions.
A survival action is a personal injury claim under common law that represents the decedent’s estate, but punitive damages will only apply if the defendant acted intentionally, with reckless disregard for the safety of others, or with malice. However, Georgia judges will only recognize this if some amount of time passed between the defendant’s behavior and the death in question.
A wrongful death claim is in many ways a personal injury claim filed on behalf of a person who did not survive his or her illness or injury. The elements of negligence in a wrongful death claim function very similarly to those of a personal injury case. To succeed in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove:
Wrongful death claims in Georgia are complex, highly involved lawsuits. They almost always require expertise from a personal injury firm. Families may not understand the systems, processes, and paperwork necessary to file this type of claim in Atlanta. A lawyer can make the claim considerably easier for surviving family members. Let Butler Wooten & Peak LLP take this burden off your shoulders so you can focus on grieving and healing instead of legal matters.
There are two distinct types of claims a party can file after a wrongful death in Georgia. The first type, a wrongful death claim, aims to compensate for the “full value of the life of the deceased.” Surviving family members bring this type of action on behalf of the deceased person. The purpose of these claims is to establish monetary damages relating to the decedent’s life, such as lost wages, lost work-related benefits, loss of consortium, and loss of intangible benefits the loved one provided. “Intangible benefits” may include care, love, companionship, parental guidance, and household duties.
The second type of lawsuit is an estate claim. The goal of an estate claim is to make up for financial losses the family suffered due to the loved one’s death. The decedent’s estate is the plaintiff in these claims, which seek to reimburse losses related to an untimely death. These damages may include funeral and burial costs, medical expenses relating to the person’s last injury/illness, and pain and suffering the decedent underwent prior to death. It is possible to file both types of claims simultaneously after wrongful death in Georgia.
After the traumatic death of a loved one, speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Butler Wooten & Peak LLP only takes a limited number of clients at a time, so that our team can tackle a case with unwavering focus and attention to detail. When you come to us with a potential wrongful death claim, we’ll first help you set up an estate. Your loved one may or may not have a will that names someone to be the representative of the estate. If not, you may need someone to step forward to fill this job. You can also file a claim without having a representative.
Next, we’ll investigate what happened to your loved one. We’ll determine if your case has merit under Georgia’s wrongful death guidelines. We may also be able to name a likely defendant in the case. If you choose to retain our attorneys for the job, we’ll file the correct documents to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. Legal processes take time. We can help you expedite the process so your family can receive compensation for losses and expenses without unnecessary delay. Our team works on a contingency fee arrangement for wrongful death and estate claims, meaning we don’t charge for our services unless we win.
If you have recently lost a loved one, contact our team of Atlanta Personal Injury Attorneys. We’ll meet with you during a free consultation or discuss your situation over the phone. After our conversation, we’ll give you a professional opinion about how you may want to proceed. We can help you navigate complicated insurance coverage issues, workers’ compensation claims, and a wrongful death lawsuit if applicable. Don’t settle for less after a devastating event like a loved one’s death. Call us in Atlanta at (404) 321-1700, in Columbus at (706) 322-1990 or toll-free at (800) 242-2962 to schedule your case evaluation with Butler Wooten & Peak LLP today!
Recent Client Testimonial:
“I associated Brandon Peak and his team at Butler Wooten & Peak to help me bring justice to two boys whose father was killed in a terrible accident. This was a complex premises liability case involving multinational corporations. Butler Wooten & Peak was always three steps ahead of these defendants. When they say they are “exceptional trial lawyers,” this is not just a slogan but it is a way of life.”