A step-by-step guide for proving a wrongful death in Georgia
The loss of a loved one is tragic, paralyzing and life-changing. If a person’s death is caused by certain factors, the state of Georgia defines their loss as “wrongful death.” This means that the person has died due to reckless, intentional or negligent actions. These actions can be caused by another human being or commercial business.
When this happens, you will want to file a wrongful death claim and consult with an experienced, knowledgeable attorney near you. In order to be successful and secure your family compensation, your lawyer will first have to establish all of the elements of liability.
Here is a step-by-step guide for proving your wrongful death claim under Georgia’s negligence and liability laws.
Georgia wrongful death law
Georgia law allows the surviving family or legal heirs to legally pursue a wrongful death case on behalf of the deceased. The goal of a wrongful death suit is financial compensation for the survivors of the loved one. Typically, damages include the pain and suffering caused to the survivors, remaining medical expenses and the cost of burial. There can also be a request for financial support for a spouse or dependent children.
To do so, this civil lawsuit must prove that the person died due to the wrongful actions of others. A lawyer handling such a case must present 4 basic elements to prove that the defendant is responsible for injury and ultimately loss of life. Without these, it can be assumed that the deceased died of either natural causes or for another reason not linked to the defense.
Elements of a wrongful death claim
The 4 elements of a wrongful death claim are:
- Breach of duty
The deceased must have been owed due care from the defendant, making the defendant negligent for their injury and death. The term “due care” is usually defined as the duty of refraining from causing another person harm. This may also be literally defined as the defendant had an obligation (or duty) to keep the deceased party safe and secure.
A typical example of this occurs after an automobile accident. Let’s say the defendant was driving in a negligent manner when they had a legal “duty” to drive safely while the deceased was a passenger. This negligence caused injury and death. Had the defendant been driving in a safe or lawful manner, the deceased party would still be alive.
2. Breach of duty
Once the plaintiff is able to prove that the defendant had a duty to the deceased, they must then prove that this basic duty was breached. There might be evidence presented that showed that the defendant failed to stop at a red light or drove through a railroad crossing. Because this is a civil (not a criminal) trial, the plaintiff must prove beyond a range of 50 percent that this recklessness is true.
3. Proving causation
The next step is when a plaintiff provides evidence that the (preceding) breach of duty was the reason for injury and death. If there was an automobile accident, then it must be proven that the defendant was driving the vehicle that killed the deceased. The defendant may have been driving recklessly, but it doesn’t matter in this case if another vehicle was to blame at the intersection.
Likewise, if the defendant was driving in a manner that caused death to an already injured person, this may be used as proof of causation of death. Since every wrongful death case is different, here is an area where the plaintiff must truly find the right evidence to sway a jury. Depending upon the details of the case, the proof needed in court will often need to be extremely detail-oriented and exact.
To receive damages from the court, the plaintiff must prove that the deceased suffered these damages. Otherwise, a jury would see no reason to reward the victim’s family a financial settlement. The wrongful death suit must prove after duty, breach of duty and causation that these damages are tangible.
At this point, a wrongful death attorney will present evidence of unpaid medical bills, the cost of a funeral and unexpected financial losses upon the decedent’s family members. If the deceased provided financial support to dependents, this will be brought before the court as well.
The value of a person’s life may also be part of the suit, especially if the deceased provided professional services upon which their earnings potential would have increased exponentially.
An experienced Macon law firm knows how to prove wrongful death
It is clear that winning a wrongful death lawsuit greatly depends on how it is tried before the court. If you find yourself in this situation, working with an experienced law firm is the best way to win your case. Attorneys well-versed in this legal specialty understand how to gather and present the required proof so no stone is left unturned.
Another asset of a wrongful death attorney is when their law firm will take a case on a contingency fee, rather than demand payment upfront. A compassionate attorney realizes that the family of the deceased is probably already overwhelmed by grief and confusion. This is in addition to the financial losses that accompany the loss of a loved one in a tragic situation.
The law firm of Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson understands the vast complexities of wrongful death lawsuits. After practicing in the state of Georgia for over 50 years, we have tried a plethora of cases from our offices in Albany, Warner Robins and Macon.