Yes, certain family members can sue for wrongful death after a loved one is killed in a car accident. However, there are only a few people who are bringing the wrongful death suit. If those family members are legally eligible to do so, they can make a claim on behalf of the deceased for many personal injury damages.
Which Family Members Can Sue for Wrongful Death After a Car Accident?
The laws for wrongful death cases are different than they used to be. In previous years, there was no way to sue someone for the death of someone else. This left family members without any way to recover damages after their loved one was deceased. But today, wrongful death statutes make it possible for certain family members to sue for damages.
In Georgia, those who can bring a wrongful death are (in order):
- The deceased’s spouse
- Parents of the deceased
- A representative for the deceased’s estate
The spouse of the deceased loved one is the first person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased had any children under 18 years old, the spouse can also bring the suit on their behalf. However, the spouse must always receive at least a third of all damages from the claim.
If the deceased person was not married or their spouse is deceased, and if they didn’t have children, their surviving parents may file a wrongful death suit.
Besides a spouse, child, or parent, the last person who can bring the suit is a representative of the deceased’s estate. This person is appointed by the probate court, and they would bring the lawsuit under their own name. However, any damages the representative wins from the suit would be held in the estate until they can be given to surviving next-of-kin.
Any loved ones who don’t fit into the categories above cannot sue for wrongful death on the deceased’s behalf.
What Wrongful Death Damages Can a Family Member Sue for?
If the wrongful death suit is being brought by surviving family members of the deceased, the damages they can claim are meant to account for the full value of the loved one’s life. Those include tangible damages like:
- Medical bills from the last injury or illness caused by the car accident
- Lost wages
- Loss of income opportunity
- Funeral costs
The above damages are more easily calculated because they include dollar amounts. These are known as special damages. A wrongful death suit can also include general damages that account for intangible losses like:
- Physical pain and suffering the deceased may have experienced before they died
- Mental anguish they may have suffered
- Loss of companionship or care
Sometimes, the family member can also sue for punitive damages. The sole purpose of punitive damages is to punish the person at fault for doing very reckless, wanton, or with ill intent. An example of this could be a drunk driving accident. The drunk driver knew drinking and driving was extremely negligent and harmful to others, but they still got behind the wheel. Punitive damages are an attempt to change the behavior or punish for what the driver has done.
What Must Be Proven for a Family Member to Sue for Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death case is similar to a personal injury case in many ways. For example, negligence must be proven in both cases. Negligence is based on the facts that:
- All people have a reasonable duty of care to not act in a way that results in harm to other people.
- If someone fails in that duty, they are being negligent.
- And if that negligence results in injury or death, the negligent person is legally liable for all damages (in other words, all costs or losses from the injury or death).
When a car accident results in death, the victim cannot represent themselves in a lawsuit—so a family member can bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of their deceased loved one.
How Long Does the Family Member Have to File for Wrongful Death After the Car Accident?
According to the statute of limitations in Georgia, most wrongful death claims must be filed within two years from the date the loved one died. It’s very important to not miss this deadline because after it’s over, all hope of bringing a case is usually lost. That being said, there are some situations where the time “pauses,” such as if there are court proceedings for a criminal case relating to the same events that caused the wrongful death case. In Georgia, the clock can pause for up to five years when family members are suing.
Don’t assume time will toll on the statute of limitations in every case (or even most cases), though. If you’re unsure about your individual case, contact a wrongful death lawyer to know the facts.
Do You Need Help with a Car Accident Wrongful Death Case?
If you’re suing on behalf of a loved one who died in a car accident (or know someone who is), John Foy & Associates can help. We work exclusively with injury victims, and we are passionate and empathetic to the needs of grieving family members seeking damages for their loved one. To schedule a FREE consultation and talk about your case, call us at 404-400-4000 or complete the online form to get started today.