Fatal Accidents – Who is Entitled to Wrongful Death Damages?

Jarrett & Price, Fatal Accident AttorneysWhen a fatality occurs due to the fault of another, Georgia law allows the spouse or other relatives of the victim to recover wrongful death benefits. This is a special category of damages available only in situations where a death has occurred due to the negligence or intentional acts of another. The code section is known as Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act and can be found at O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1 to 51-4-5. The measure of damages in a wrongful death action is the “value of the life” of the decedent.

The initial question in these cases is, “who is entitled to the wrongful death benefits?” This can be a complicated question and can even require hearings before a court in certain situations.

Spouses

If the victim was married at the time of the accident, the wrongful death benefits will flow to the victim’s surviving spouse. Therefore the spouse is the plaintiff in the lawsuit and brings the action on behalf of the victim. If the victim and spouse had children, then the surviving spouse brings the case on behalf of her and her surviving children. The general rule is that the surviving spouse and the surviving children will each get equal shares of the damage award, so long as the surviving spouse receives no less than one third of the total damages.

Children 

In the event that there is no surviving spouse, then surviving children may bring the suit in their names and share in the proceeds equally. However, the children are only able to bring the suit themselves if there is no surviving spouse, or the surviving spouse chooses not to file a suit, or is not capable for whatever reason.

Parents 

In the event there is no surviving spouse, and no surviving children, the parents of the victim may bring the wrongful death action. This can be complicated when the parents are no longer married, especially if they have been separated for a number of years. Typically the wrongful death benefits are divided equally among the parents, but it is possible for a Court to have a hearing on whether to award a greater share of the benefits to a parent that has been the child’s primary caregiver, or if one parent has been largely absent from the child’s life.

Other Surviving Relatives 

In the event that there is no surviving spouse, no surviving child, and no surviving parent, the final option is a closest surviving relative. The executor of the decedent’s estate may bring the action on behalf of a surviving relative if that relative is unknown at the time the action is filed.

Estate Actions and Damages

While wrongful death benefits are for the value of the life of the decedent, the victim’s estate can also bring separate actions for other categories of damages. These actions must be brought by the administrator of the estate, even if the administrator and beneficiaries of the estate are the same individuals seeking the wrongful death benefits.

The estate is entitled to recover additional damages for medical bills, funeral expenses, pain and suffering of the victim, and most importantly, punitive damages. Damages recovered on behalf of the estate are then distributed to the victim’s surviving relatives per the rules of estate administration.

If you have lost a loved one due to the fault of another contact the attorneys at Jarrett & Price LLC to determine if you or other relatives of the decedent are entitled to damages. Call (912) 999-2599 today for a free consultation.



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