A wrongful death case results from a death caused by someone else’s negligence. Examples of wrongful death could be a drunk driver hitting and killing a pedestrian who was legally crossing the road, someone running a red light and causing a car accident that kills another driver, and so many other scenarios.
Wrongful death cases fall under personal injury law because although the deceased is unable to file a claim, certain loved ones can do so on the victim’s behalf. This allows family members to seek financial recovery for medical bills, funeral costs, pain and suffering, and other losses.
If you lost a loved one in a personal injury accident, you should know the important elements of a wrongful death case. There are ways it differs from other types of cases, including key details that you’ll need to remember when bringing the case.
Top 5 Things to Know About Your Wrongful Death Case
The death of a loved one can result in huge emotional stress and financial hardship for family members. When that death is caused by the negligence of another person, a wrongful death case is meant to help ease some of the burden. If you plan to bring a wrongful death case, here’s what you need to know.
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1. Only Certain People Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
Not everyone can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased individual. Most of the time, wrongful death damages can only be awarded to the following people (in hierarchical order):
- The surviving spouse
- Non-adult children of the deceased
- The surviving parents
- The designated representative of the deceased individual’s estate
The surviving spouse can also file a wrongful death case on behalf of the deceased’s minor children. (But no matter how many children there are, the spouse should receive no less than a third of the full compensation.)
If there is no surviving spouse or children of the deceased, any surviving parents can file a claim. Otherwise, the only non-family member who can bring a wrongful death case is the deceased’s estate representative. If this happens, all damages will be held in the deceased’s estate until distributed to their next-of-kin.
If you’re unsure of how to make a claim on behalf of your loved one, a wrongful death lawyer can help.
2. You Can Make a Claim for Two Types of Damages
If you’re able to make a wrongful death claim, you’re entitled to recover for damages on behalf of the deceased. Those damages typically fall into one of two categories:
a. The Full Value of the Deceased’s Life
This includes financial recovery for what the law deems as the financial and intangible values of the deceased individual’s life. These include:
- Lost wages that they would have earned and/or employee benefits
- Loss of companionship and other “intangible” benefits loved ones would have otherwise received from the individual
These damages are meant to compensate loved ones for the physical and emotional losses they experience because of the death.
b. Financial Losses
These damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial costs
- Pain and suffering the deceased dealt with before their death
Even if there is no surviving spouse and no surviving children, these are the types of damages the deceased’s estate representative can file a claim for.
You may also be able to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case. These damages are meant to punish the person who was at fault, and they’re more common during a drunk driving case or when the person was acting maliciously or wantonly. Punitive damages are hard to prove, but a good wrongful death lawyer can help.
3. There is a Statute of Limitations
Wrongful death cases, like all personal injury cases, have a “statute of limitations” that set deadlines for when you must file a claim. In the State of Georgia, most wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the date the loved one died. If you don’t file within this two-year limit, you will likely lose your right to file a claim.
There are some exceptions. If the accident involves a criminal case, for example, the time limit would be temporarily suspended until the criminal case is over. Then, the statute of limitations would start running again once the case is complete. The statute of limitations may also be paused if the estate of the deceased person is not probated—meaning the estate has not yet been administered according to the deceased’s will, which must be validated. In this case, the statute of limitations could be tolled for up to five years.
Unless a wrongful death lawyer tells you otherwise, it’s best to assume the deadline is two years, as that’s the case for most wrongful death claims.
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4. Most Wrongful Death Cases Don’t Go to Trial
Most wrongful death cases reach a settlement before they have to go to court, and sometimes you won’t even have to file a lawsuit. If you have a wrongful death lawyer, your chances of reaching a resolution are likely to happen more quickly. However, sometimes wrongful death cases can still last several years.
5. You Will Benefit from a Wrongful Death Lawyer
It might be possible to pursue a wrongful death suit on your own, but it’s typically not advised. Most family members who find themselves filing a wrongful death case have never been in this position before—or been part of the personal injury legal process at all. A wrongful death lawyer can help you and your family by:
- Explaining what you need to know about personal injury law and wrongful death cases
- Helping you compile evidence for your case
- Building a solid court case
- Handling the complex paperwork
- Helping keep you calm during the process by knowing a legal professional is on the case
A good lawyer will also allow your family to focus on healing from this traumatic loss. A successful wrongful death case can help you tremendously, but it’s stressful and often painful. An attorney will know how to handle the tough areas and give you more room to breathe and deal with difficult emotions in the process.
Talk to a Wrongful Death Lawyer for Free Today
If you lost a loved one in an accident and you think you have a wrongful death case, it’s important to speak with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as you can. They can ensure you have a legitimate case and advise you on the best way to continue the process. And at John Foy & Associates, the initial consultation is always FREE. We bring more than 20 years of experience to the table, and we’re here to help you and your family. To learn more and to speak with one of our attorneys for free, call us today at 404-400-4000, or fill out the form on this page to get started.