Understanding Your Next Steps After a Wrongful Death Car Accident
Each year, hundreds of Georgians are killed in wrongful death car accidents.
According to statistics by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, 1,430 were killed in 2015, an increase over 2014, when 1,164 were killed.
If you have lost a loved one in a crash, you might be entitled to financial compensation, but you need to act fast.
Schedule a consultation with a wrongful death car accident attorney to discuss whether you have a valid legal claim.
Love One Killed in a Serious Accident?
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What is “Wrongful Death”?
When someone is injured in a car accident, they can sue the at-fault driver for compensation for their injuries. However, if they die, certain surviving family members can bring a lawsuit. In effect, these survivors step into the shoes of their loved one and bring the lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
A wrongful death is one that is caused by another person’s or business’ criminal, intentional, reckless, or negligent actions. Not all deaths qualify, so your attorney will need to analyze the circumstances surrounding the crash to see whether you have a valid wrongful death claim.
In a car accident, the driver might be responsible if they:
- Drove while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
- Engaged in distracted driving
- Made a careless error, such as failing to look in their rearview mirror when passing or backing up
- Drove recklessly or aggressively, by speeding, swerving, or passing on the right
Furthermore, a business can sometimes be responsible for wrongful death. For example, a defect in the car, like a defective airbag or seatbelt, might have caused the death, or malfunctioning brakes might have caused the collision.
In these situations, you can sue the car manufacturer or the manufacturer of the defective component part for wrongful death.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2 identifies the following people who can bring the wrongful death lawsuit:
- A surviving spouse
- If no surviving spouse, then the children (whether underage or adult)
If no one qualifies to bring the wrongful death action, then the estate’s personal representative can bring the wrongful death lawsuit. The personal representative can also bring a claim to recover certain expenses explained below.
Georgia’s wrongful death law is complicated, and you are not expected to know whether you can bring a lawsuit. Instead, consult with a Georgia wrongful death attorney who can analyze whether you are allowed to file.
Why Isn’t the Prosecutor Bringing this Case?
A wrongful death lawsuit is separate from a criminal prosecution in a few ways. For one, the driver can be legally responsible in a civil suit for your loved one’s death without being criminally responsible.
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you only need to show that the driver was negligent—meaning, they were insufficiently careful. By contrast, for a criminal conviction for involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must show a higher level of negligence.
Of course, in some situations, the defendant might have recklessly or intentionally killed a loved one, in which case the defendant has committed both a civil wrong (wrongful death) and a crime (homicide).
Second, a wrongful death lawsuit only results in the defendant paying you money damages. You cannot send them to jail or exact any other punishment. By contrast, in a criminal prosecution, the defendant can go to jail or be put on probation if convicted. They also will have a criminal record.
Wrongful death lawsuits differ from criminal prosecutions in another key way. To prevail, you only need to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death. This means you must show it is more likely than not true that the defendant’s actions caused the death.
By contrast, to win a criminal conviction, the prosecutor must show that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—which is a much higher standard.
What Kind of Compensation Can I Receive?
Surviving family members can receive compensation for various losses associated with the wrongful death, including:
- Loss of care
- Loss of companionship
- Lost wages and benefits that the deceased would have earned had they lived
- The survivor’s emotional grief
These losses can be difficult to calculate. For example, lost wages and benefits are somewhat speculative, especially if your loved one was young. No one knows with confidence what jobs they would have worked and how much they would have made.
Nevertheless, your wrongful death car accident lawyer can estimate these amounts based on your loved one’s education and income at the time of death.
Furthermore, the loss of care and companionship are intangible and impossible to put a price tag one. However, an experienced Georgia wrongful death lawyer can use their experience to estimate the amount available—which can be substantial.
In egregious circumstances—such as when someone deliberately kills your loved one—you might receive punitive damages. These damages are awarded to deter the defendant (and others) from acting is such a reprehensible way in the future.
The estate can also receive compensation if the personal representative brings a claim. For example, the estate can recover money for the following losses:
- Medical bills related to treating your loved one’s final illness
- Burial expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Any conscious pain and suffering your loved one suffered before death
How Much Time Do I Have to Sue?
Generally, Georgia gives survivors only two years from the date of death to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If you wait too long, you cannot bring a lawsuit and receive compensation.
However, if the state brings a criminal case against the defendant, then the clock stops and only starts up again after the criminal case has concluded. For example, one year after the death of a loved one the state might bring criminal charges against the defendant, which takes two years to work its way to trial. After the trial, you have one year remaining to bring a lawsuit for wrongful death.
Contact a Georgia Wrongful Death Car Accident Lawyer
The loss of a loved one is a painful time, with fears about how you will provide for your family in the future. Surviving family members probably do not want to think about a lawsuit. Nevertheless, help is available if you act quickly enough.
At Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, our team of wrongful death attorneys have helped many grieving family members obtain the compensation they need to begin rebuilding their lives. If you would like to discuss whether you have a case, please contact us today for your free consultation.