Fatal Car Accidents
When you get that dreaded phone call that a family member has died suddenly in a catastrophic automobile accident, the shock, anguish and grief are overwhelming. It can feel like have a hole punched in your heart. Survivors are suddenly thrust into the painful five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance. As a seasoned Atlanta injury lawyer, Ken Shigley has long experience helping families through this ordeal.
While no amount of money can bring back a loved one who has been killed in a fatal automobile accident, a qualified Georgia attorney can help you obtain a monetary award that is the only way civil law has to hold accountable the person or company that caused the death.
Georgia wrongful death law allows two types of legal claims for the death of a family member killed in a fatal car wreck.
In a “survival action” the estate of the deceased person sues through the executor or administrator for pain and suffering before death, medical expense and funeral expense. An advantage of including the “survival action” is that it is the only way to make a claim for punitive damages for a death. On the other and, this “survival action” suit is subject to liens for medical bills, health insurance subrogation and claims of creditors.
In a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal car accident, on the other hand, surviving family members designated by Georgia statute (spouse, children, parent, or heirs at law depending on the circumstances) can recover money for the “full value of the life” of the deceased. This includes both economic damages (projected lifetime income, with no deduction for living expenses or income taxes, value of services, etc.) and intangible factors such as the enjoyment of the experience of living. The "full value of the life" is determined by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury and can include a broad range of objective and subjective factors. Georgia law does not require any rigid formula or arbitrary on the damages awarded in a wrongful death case. This wrongful death claim is not subject to medical liens or other claims of creditors.
In a Georgia wrongful death case after a fatal motor vehicle accident, a surviving spouse can sue for wrongful death but must share the money recovered equally with surviving children of the deceased spouse. A child's share up to $15,000 may be held by the child's natural guardian without posting a bond. If a minor child's share of the money recovered is $15,000 or more, a guardian of the child's property must be qualified in probate court and post a bond. No bond is normally required if the probate court approves a structured settlement with annuity payments going to the child after attaining age 18, with any cash held by the child's natural guardian before the child reaches age 18 remaining less than $15,000.
When there is no surviving spouse, the surviving children of the deceased parent may sue for wrongful death. If a surviving spouse is missing, a court may permit the children to pursue the death claim on their own. When an estranged spouse forfeits the right to sue, the surviving children may attempt to sue on their own but it is often prudent for them to work a deal with the estranged surviving spouse.
If the person who was killed had neither a spouse nor child surviving, then under Georgia law the decedent's parents can sue for their child’s wrongful death. If the parents are divorced or living apart, the trial court can allocate the wrongful death recovery between them considering whatever factors the court considers pertinent. There have been cases of an uninvolved absentee father being limited to as little as one half of one percent of the total recovery for the wrongful death of a child.
If there is no surviving spouse, child or parent, the administrator of the estate can sue on behalf of the next of kin. Even if the next of kin is a minor, e.g., a sibling, an anomaly in current Georgia law requires that an administrator file suit within two years from the date of death.
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