The wrongful death statute of limitations in Georgia may not be something you think about following a loved one’s death, but it’s something important to keep in mind. While suffering a serious injury in an accident can involve intense pain and emotional suffering, losing a loved one unexpectedly is shocking, painful, and devastating. In the aftermath of a sudden loss, the idea of taking legal action might be far from your mind. However, it is important to keep in mind you have a limited window of time to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. This is sometimes referred to as the Georgia wrongful death statute, or simply, the statute of limitations.
What is Wrongful Death?
The most simple definition of wrongful death is the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. The “wrongful” death could be negligence, recklessness, or even intentional acts. The OJ Simpson civil trial is one of the most famous wrongful death cases, where a jury awarded victims’ families $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. It is also possible that a wrongful death could result from failing to do anything at all. In 2016, a boy drowned at a school in Southern California and faculty and lifeguards present did absolutely nothing. That case was settled in 2018 for $11 million. Although wrongful death cases award damages (money) to victims’ families, the cases are often not just about money. They may shed light on the lack of safety protocols and lead to greater accountability in the future, preventing future tragedies.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?
Georgia law establishes who is eligible to bring a wrongful death claim to court, starting with the spouse of the victim. If the spouse and the victim had minor children, then the surviving spouse is also required to represent the children’s interest in the claim. The surviving spouse cannot receive less than one-third of the total recovery, regardless of how many surviving children there are. If there is not a surviving spouse or children available to file a wrongful death claim, then the claim may be brought by:
- the surviving parent or parents of the victim,
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
If the wrongful death claim is brought by the personal representative, damages recovered must be held by the estate to go to the deceased person’s next of kin.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations In Georgia
How long do you have to sue for wrongful death? For a wrongful death claim, the Georgia civil statute of limitations will determine the time period (number of years) you have to file a lawsuit. In most cases in Georgia, this time period is two years from the time of the person’s death. If the party you are suing is a government entity, such as a school district or city, you must file your lawsuit within one year. If there is a criminal case related to the victim’s death, for example, a drunk driver is facing criminal charges, the time limit will be suspended until the criminal case has been resolved. Lastly, if your loved one’s estate does not go through probate, you have an additional five years to file a claim. Once the statute of limitations expires, you cannot file a lawsuit. To ensure there is no possibility of missing out on filing a claim and recovering compensation, do not delay in speaking to a personal injury attorney as soon as you can.
How Much is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?
One of the most frequent questions people ask in a consultation is “How much is a wrongful death lawsuit worth?” Unfortunately, there is no wrongful death lawsuit settlements average amount. Every case is different with unique elements. The factors that determine how much a wrongful death case is worth include:
- the costs the incident created (final medical expenses + funeral and burial expenses)
- the amount of pain the victim experienced before their death.
- the economic losses the surviving family members experienced (how much the victim would have financially contributed over the course of the lifetime).
- the amount of insurance/assets available.
The final factor, the amount of insurance/assets available, can be a limiting factor in a wrongful death claim. If a loved one was killed in a Georgia car accident and the driver had only the minimum limits of liability required under Georgia law ($25,000 per person, $50,000 per occurrence), it may be the case that you are limited in what you can recover. However, it’s important to talk to a lawyer as there may be multiple liable parties and sources of recovery. In some types of accidents, such as tractor-trailer accidents, trucking companies have millions of dollars in insurance coverage available.
Who Pays For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit may be paid for by the at-fault party or parties. Very often, this is covered by an insurance policy. Attorneys are paid via a portion of the settlement or trial verdict. The contingency fee nature of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits allows anyone to hire a lawyer after an accident, with no up-front fees or out-of-pocket costs. As a plaintiff, this allows you to select the most qualified lawyer to represent you.
How to Find a Wrongful Death Attorney
You can find a wrongful death attorney in Georgia via an internet search, Atlanta Bar Association Referral Service, or by searching local directories. Because wrongful death lawyers are paid a percentage of the recovery, there generally isn’t the concern of hourly rates or some lawyers charging more than others. Look for experience and results, both in settlements and trial verdicts. Keep in mind the wrongful death statute of limitations in Georgia, and do not delay contacting a lawyer. If you would like to speak to a wrongful death attorney in Atlanta, GA, contact the Graham Firm for a free consultation today. We have offices in Marietta, GA, and Griffin, GA and we are here seven days a week to answer your questions. Feel free to call us to request a complimentary case review at 404-526-9955.