What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and Who Gets the Money?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action where the surviving family members can bring a legal case for the death of a loved one. Wrongful death cases are governed by statute, this means that there is a written law which expressly states who may bring a wrongful claim and who gets to keep the money. Here are the answers to the most common questions about wrongful death cases in Georgia:

When do I have a wrongful death case?

If the death of your loved one occurred due to the negligence of another person or a business, then you likely have a wrongful death case. Negligence is a legal word which means that someone else’s actions were improper, and those actions caused your loved one to die. Wrongful deaths can occur because of many situations, including car accidents, tractor trailer accidents, work incidents, or product defects. If a death occurs and someone else was responsible for the death, then there is a valid wrongful death claim.

What if the deceased person’s own actions partially caused the death?

If the deceased person’s actions were partially at fault for causing the death, there still could be a valid wrongful death case for the family. When looking at who caused the death to occur, a judge or jury will determine what percentage, if any, was caused by the person who died. In Georgia, the amount the family receives will likely be reduced by this percentage. If the deceased person is fifty percent (50%) or more at fault for their own death, the family could receive nothing from the case. Only an experienced wrongful death lawyer can advise you on what percentages will apply to your case.

What money can be recovered in a wrongful death case?

Georgia’s wrongful death statute allows family members of a deceased person to recover for the loss of their loved one. The amount is determined by the “full value of the life of the decedent as shown by the evidence.” This means that evidence will be presented to show the financial contributions the person made to the family, the emotional support the decedent provided, and the value of the housekeeping and childcare services the person provided. No amount of money can bring back the loved one, so the best the law can do is assign a financial value to the services they provided and award that amount to the family. Over the person’s expected lifespan, this amount can easily be millions of dollars.

Who gets to bring the wrongful death case and make the decisions in the case?

If the deceased person was married at the time of the death, the surviving spouse will generally be the person who gets to bring the case and make all decisions regarding settlement. Even when the deceased family member has adult-aged children, Georgia law is clear that the spouse has the authority to make the final decision to settle and for what amount, even without the children’s consent. The spouse is required, however, to give the children their percentage of the settlement funds.

Who gets to keep the money from a wrongful death settlement?

In most cases, the court will divide the wrongful death settlement equally between the spouse and any of the deceased’s children, but the spouse will receive no less than one-third of the total amount. Practically, this means that when there are only two children, the spouse and both children will all receive equal shares. When there are more than two children, the spouse will receive one-third of the settlement amount and the children will split the rest equally. If there is no surviving spouse, the children will split the amount equally.

Will the wrongful death settlement be used to pay the deceased’s unpaid debt?

If the deceased had debt at the time of their death, the wrongful death settlement proceeds will not be taken to pay the debt. The wrongful death proceeds belong to the family members, not the estate of the deceased person. There could be a separate injury claim made by the estate for the injury suffered by the now deceased person before they died. This amount can be subject to unpaid debts by the deceased. When both a wrongful death and an estate claim exist, an experienced wrongful death lawyer can allocate the settlement in a special way to ensure that the family’s settlement proceeds are protected.

Wrongful death cases are very complicated and require the knowledge of an experienced wrongful death lawyer. If you have more questions about a potential wrongful death case and whether or not it

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