In Georgia, only certain individuals are entitled to recover for the loss of a loved one. Generally, when the deceased person is an adult, his or her spouse or children have the right to seek a legal recovery when a loved one has died due to negligence or an intentional act. The spouse is required to share a portion of the proceeds from any legal action for wrongful death with the children, but is guaranteed a one-third of any recovery for wrongful death. When the death of a minor is involved, the right to recover belongs to the child's parents. In the event a person is not survived by a spouse, child or parent, then the right to pursue a wrongful death action belongs to the deceased person's estate.
Under Georgia law, individuals have the right to recover "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." O.C.G.A. S 51-4-1. The "full value" is not limited to those items having proven monetary value, such as lost earnings, but include the loss of intangible items whose value cannot be precisely quantified. In the end, the judge will tell the jury that the amount to be awarded should be determined by their "enlightened conscience."
In addition to a claim for "wrongful death" for the full value of the person's life, the estate of the person also has a right to seek recovery for pain and suffering, if appropriate, and for economic losses such as medical and funeral expenses. Depending on the circumstances, a claim for punitive damages may also be brought.
Determining the appropriate value of a claim for "wrongful death" and for the estate's claim is complicated. It involves evaluating the nature and extent of the injury which led to the person's death, the economic losses that are recoverable, and the liability issues related to the situation. The location where a trial would take place and the person's health are issues that are also factored into any evaluation of a wrongful death claim. Our office utilizes our experience as well as multiple national databases to properly evaluate each of our cases.
Since insurance companies have vast experience in evaluating personal injury claims and will seek to obtain the lowest settlement possible, it is important to have a person with considerable experience dealing with insurance companies on your behalf. Generally, it is best to retain an attorney who regularly handles wrongful death claims and will be prepared to institute litigation on your behalf if the insurance company is unwilling to settle your claim for a fair value.
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