Atlanta Wrongful Death Attorney

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Was your loved one killed in a tragic accident?

Your family may be entitled to wrongful death benefits. Let our Georgia attorneys help secure compensation from those accountable for your loss.

Anger. Shock. Dismay. Confusion. Anxiety. Crippling grief. You may be experiencing all of these emotions and more right now if you recently lost a spouse, child, parent or another loved one in a tragic accident. We hear about such unthinkable losses on the news, but nothing can prepare you when it happens to you and your family.

If you are reading this page because you recently lost a loved one, first we’d like to offer our deepest condolences. The death of a spouse or family member is devastating, especially when it occurs unexpectedly and tragically.

Emotional distress and grief aren’t the only troubles you are probably facing, though. After a fatal accident, surviving spouses and family members often experience tremendous financial difficulties since a primary breadwinner is no longer able to provide for the family. As the bills pile up, you might feel lost and helpless in this moment.

But take some comfort in knowing that you don’t have to face the unknown of what comes next alone.

Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys can help you and your family obtain financial security in the wake of this tragic loss by seeking compensation for damages such as funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost future earnings, pain and suffering, loss of consortium and more.
While no amount of money will fill the hole in your life left by the loss of your loved one, financial compensation can help you achieve financial stability and ensure that those responsible are held to account for their negligence.

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Georgia wrongful death laws

If you get hurt due to negligence, you can generally sue the negligent individual, party or company under Georgia’s personal injury laws. But when the injury is so severe that the person dies, they are no longer able to bring a claim themselves. In such cases, their surviving spouse, children or loved ones may file a claim on the deceased’s behalf. This is what’s known as a wrongful death lawsuit.

Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act (Title 51, Chapter 4) defines “wrongful death” as a tort in which someone’s death results from:

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  • A crime
  • Negligence (criminal or otherwise), or
  • Defectively manufactured or managed property

 

Wrongful death lawsuits can arise from any incident caused by negligence, including a wide number personal injuries and accidents — most commonly fatal car and truck accidents, motorcycle wrecks, pedestrian and bicycle collisions, defective products, construction accidents, medical malpractice and nursing home negligence and abuse.

Criminal vs. civil law: how wrongful death cases differ

Wrongful death is a type of tort that falls under personal injury (civil) law. While wrongful death cases can arise as a result of a criminal act, they differ from criminal cases in several important ways.

For starters, the purpose of a wrongful death action is not necessarily to punish the person or company at fault (the defendant), but rather to financially compensate the plaintiff for their loss. This compensation is referred to as “damages.”

In criminal cases, on the other hand, a person convicted of homicide or manslaughter might face jail time, probation, loss of their driving privileges and other penalties. Some criminal defendants must also pay a fine to the state, but this money is not given to the spouse or family of the person they killed.

In other words: Though criminal convictions can provide some measure of justice and accountability, they do nothing to financially support a grieving family. If you are seeking monetary compensation for the death of your loved one, you’ll have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.

Another important distinction is who can bring a case. In a criminal case, a government-appointed prosecutor files charges on behalf of the state and victims. The defendant is represented by either a government-appointed attorney or hires a private defense attorney to represent them. The survivors or estate of the deceased may be called upon as witnesses in a criminal case, but ultimately they have no say over the sentencing or plea bargain negotiations.

In a civil tort such as a wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased survivors or estate may choose to file a lawsuit in civil court. Usually, the plaintiff hires a wrongful death attorney to represent them, and the defendant hires a defense lawyer. Unlike criminal charges, civil claims can be “dropped” if, for instance, a pre-trial settlement is reached during negotiations or mediation.

Wrongful death lawsuits and criminal (homicide) charges also differ in how they proceed. Criminal cases usually go to trial, which is presided over by a judge and jury. Sometimes, plea bargain agreements and deferred adjudication can reduce the penalties a defendant must serve, but every person is entitled to a fair and impartial trial under the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Wrongful death actions, on the other hand, rarely proceed to trial. While some cases do go before a judge and jury in civil court, a vast majority of wrongful death claims are settled out of court during pretrial negotiations, mediation or arbitration.

Lastly, the burden of proof differs between criminal cases like homicide and civil cases like wrongful death. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. This is the highest legal standard.

In contrast, plaintiffs (or their attorneys) in a wrongful death claim need only establish that the defendant was more likely than not responsible for their loved one’s death (known as a “preponderance of the evidence”) — or at least 51 percent liable.

Proving fault is harder in criminal cases than civil claims, which means that a person whose criminal charges were dismissed could still be liable in civil court for personal injury or wrongful death damages — for example, take the OJ Simpson case. While a criminal conviction can help support a civil tort claim, it isn’t a requirement.

Common questions and answers about
wrongful death

An overview of Georgie’s rules, requirements and limitations regarding wrongful death claims can be found in Title 51, Chapter 4 (O.C.G.A. § 51-4). Since these laws and codes can be difficult for non-legal folks to decipher, we’ll address a few of the most common questions below.

How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

In most Georgia wrongful death lawsuits, surviving spouses, children or eligible dependents have 2 years from the date of the death to file a claim. If you miss this deadline — known as the “statute of limitations” — then you will likely be unable to file a claim.

If you wish to file a wrongful death claim against a government agency or entity, the statute of limitations could be as short as 6 months or 1 year.

Exceptions to the statute of limitations are rare, but there are a couple of notable situations when the legal deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be “tolled”—or paused. Wrongful death cases are typically quite complicated, and determining what deadline applies can be challenging. Your best course of action is to consult with an attorney near you as soon as possible to understand your legal options and take the right steps before your opportunity to pursue justice expires.

Who is eligible for wrongful death benefits?

Georgia law is quite clear about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Even if the person who died was your best friend, you cannot file a wrongful death claim. Only surviving loved ones who are related to the deceased in the following ways can recover damages:

Spouse. Husbands and wives of the deceased have top priority in filing a wrongful death claim. The spouse can also file a claim on behalf of themselves and any children of the deceased who are under 18. If the deceased left no will, then the spouse must share the award with any living children. But the surviving spouse is entitled to at least one-third of the full claim settlement or award, regardless of how many children there are.

Children. If there is no surviving spouse, then the minor (under 18) and dependent children of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim. When a spouse and children seek wrongful death compensation, the final award or settlement must be equally shared.

Parents. If the deceased individual was single (unmarried) and had no children, then their surviving parents can file a wrongful death claim.

Executor. A designated personal representative or “executor” may be appointed in certain cases. These executors must typically transfer any damages they recover in a wrongful death settlement or award to the deceased’s individual’s closest next of kin.

What damages are awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit?

According to Georgia law: “When death of a human being results from a crime or from criminal or other negligence, the personal representative of the deceased person shall be entitled to recover for the funeral, medical, and other necessary expenses resulting from the injury and death of the deceased person.”

The first category of wrongful death compensation is compensatory damages, which aims to help the deceased’s loved one recover from the economic impacts of their death — including:

Funeral and burial expenses. Funerals and burial preparations can be costly, depending on the wishes of the deceased and their loved ones. In a wrongful death claim, families can recover these expenses from the defendant.

Medical costs. Before your loved one’s passing, they may have received medical treatment for their fatal injury at a hospital, emergency room, urgent care clinic or another healthcare facility. Grieving families are often surprised and angered to get medical bills in the mail following the death of their spouse, child, parent or relative. All of these expenses should be covered in a wrongful death damages award.

The second category of wrongful death damages, which is more difficult to calculate, seeks to compensate eligible dependents for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” According to the statute, the full value of the life of the deceased “means the full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived.”

These damages can include both economic and non-economic losses such as the lost wages and benefits the deceased would have earned in their lifetime, as well as the lost companionship, care and advice (known as “loss of consortium”) the deceased’s loved one will never be able to experience.

In addition, punitive damages may be awarded in rare cases. Punitive damages are only granted in cases where the defendant’s actions were “grossly negligent,” malicious, intentional or indifferent. The plaintiffs themselves cannot seek punitive damages, but rather they may be awarded if the judge or jury wishes to punish the defendant by awarding additional damages.

How do you prove wrongful death?

As with all other personal injury cases, in a wrongful death claim the plaintiff must establish that the defendant was more likely than not responsible for their loved one’s death (known as a “preponderance of the evidence”) — or at least 51 percent liable.

To be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove the following elements and help the judge or jury answer the following questions:

1. Duty. Did the defendant owe a duty of care to your deceased loved one?

2. Breach. How did the defendant breach or violate this duty of care through action or inaction?

3. Causation. Did the breach of duty directly result in your loved one’s death (and not some other cause)?

4. Damage. What measurable harm was caused by your loved one’s death?

Meet your Atlanta wrongful death attorney

Julian Lewis Sanders founded The Law Offices of Julian Lewis Sanders and Associates in 2003. The firm proudly serves Atlanta and the surrounding communities of Georgia in personal injury law.

“Growing up in a military family, I learned the importance of dedication and honor early, which established a foundation for my eventual
law career.”

Meet Julian Sanders

Excellent! Some time ago, my wife found out about Julian Sanders, and she hired their services as our legal representatives in court. They helped us in getting the compensation due to us. I can never thank them enough. – Jastin Clark

We want to help you. Give us a chance to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and show you how we will take swift strategic action to help right the wrong that has been done to you.

Call or text the Law Offices of Julian Sanders & Associates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
(678) 705-9581

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WRONGFUL DEATH

At The Law Offices of Julian Lewis Sanders & Associates, we understand the gravity of wrongful death cases and what’s at stake. Our legal team of Atlanta-based attorneys has represented countless individuals and families in Georgia who are still reeling from a sudden loss. We handle each and every case with compassion, expertise and skill to ensure the best possible outcome for our clients.