If you recently lost a spouse or family member in a fatal crash, you may understandably be feeling a mix of emotions—from anger at the at-fault driver to deep sadness that your loved one’s life was so suddenly and violently cut short.
You also may be stressed and overwhelmed about how you will provide for your family, as well as confused about your legal rights—all while trying to process what happened and figure out what life looks like moving forward.
Wrongful death claims are legally complex and emotionally charged cases that require dedicated legal counsel possessing the resources to maximize compensation. If your loved one died due to another person’s negligence, recklessness or fault, secure the justice you need by calling the law firm of Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson. From our offices in Macon, Albany and Warner Robins, we’ve helped clients statewide in Georgia and across the Southeast for over 50 years.
Seeking justice can help you move beyond grief.
Hire an attorney.
Don’t just take our word for it. While past verdicts are no guarantee of your case outcome since every case is unique, our record of successes show that we have the skill, knowledge and resources to secure the best possible outcome:
- $3.25 million for the wrongful death of a young woman killed after being struck by a driver of a delivery truck
- $2.10 million settlement for the death of an infant by a negligent truck driver
Building fact-based wrongful death claims requires the help of experts to determine the cause of death and the short- and long-term effects on surviving family members. Engineers and accident reconstructionists can help to identify the negligence that led to the fatal car accident. Medical experts provide necessary information on the cause of death and the possibility of pain and suffering prior to death. Financial professionals calculate the financial impact now and in the future.
Top causes of fatal car accidents in Georgia
Auto accidents are the leading cause of injury-related death and the second leading cause of hospitalization and ER visits in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. In 2017, Georgia had the 4th highest number of traffic deaths (1,540) in the U.S., despite being the 8th most populated state, indicating that fatal car accidents are an oversized problem in the Peach State.
Some of the most common causes of traffic deaths include:
- Distracted driving. Driving while distracted is by far the single most common cause of fatal crashes. Texting behind the wheel, in particular, is responsible for untold numbers of lives lost every year, despite Georgia’s strict distracted driving laws. In 2019, 3,142 people were confirmed to be killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, though the actual number is undoubtedly higher since not all drivers readily admit to driving distracted.
- Drunk/drugged driving. Even though driving while impaired is a criminal offense in Georgia, unfortunately that doesn’t stop some people from endangering lives. It’s estimated that driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol claims more than 10,000 lives in the U.S. each year—about 1 fatality every 50 minutes. Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers.
- Drowsy driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 697 people died in 2019 from drowsy driving-related crashes. As with distracted driving, though, the actual number is likely much higher since it’s not yet possible to accurately estimate the number of drowsy driving crashes. Operating a vehicle while sleepy or fatigued impairs a driver’s cognition, reaction time and performance.
- Reckless driving. Speeding, tailgating, failure to yield and swerving in and out of traffic are just a few examples of reckless driving behaviors that frequently result in the death of the reckless driver or another person. Speeding, in particular, was a contributing factor in 26 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2018, according to the NHTSA.
- Not wearing a seatbelt. Georgia, along with many other states, participates in the well-known law enforcement campaign Click It or Ticket. This program encourages folks to wear their seatbelt since data shows that buckling up is one of the best things drivers and passengers can do to avoid serious injury and death in an auto accident. In fact, of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, nearly half (47 percent) were not wearing seatbelts. That same year, seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seatbelts.
- Bad weather. Unpredictable, poor weather — particularly rain here in Georgia — can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle and crash, or collide with another vehicle. While you can’t sue Mother Nature for your loved one’s death, you can hold another driver liable for reckless driving if they were driving too fast for the weather and road conditions.
Georgia wrongful death laws for fatal crashes
When a loved one is killed in a fatal wreck, their surviving spouse, parents or children may decide that it’s in their best interest to sue the negligent driver responsible for damages. While auto insurance can cover some of the expenses a grieving family might encounter following a fatal wreck (such as the medical bills and property damage), other damages like pain and suffering, loss of companionship and loss of future earning potential may need to be pursued by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Such cases typically fall under wrongful death law.
Under Georgia statute (O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2):
The surviving spouse or, if there is no surviving spouse, a child or children, either minor or sui juris, may recover for the homicide of the spouse or parent the full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.
To make matters more confusing, there are 2 different types of civil claims in Georgia that can be filed if your spouse, parent or family member was killed in a fatal car accident: survival action and a wrongful death claim. Each of these claims covers different costs associated with a fatal wreck.
If a person is killed in a fatal crash, sometimes there is a period of time between the moment of impact and when they ultimately pass away. During this period, they might experience tremendous pain and suffering, and require costly emergency medical care. Unfortunately, hospitals don’t erase a medical bill just because their patient didn’t make it.
A survival action allows the deceased person’s estate, which is typically their administrator or executor, to sue the at-fault party for total medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as the pain and suffering the person experienced prior to their death. Punitive damages may also be sought through a survival action in rare cases of “gross negligence.”
Wrongful death claim
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving dependents of the person killed (typically their spouse, children or parent) can sue the person responsible for the loss of their loved one—or, referred to in the law as the “full value of the life of the deceased.”
This compensation can be for both economic and non-economic damages including:
- Loss of future income
- Loss of earning potential
- Loss of retirement benefits
- Loss of consortium
- Child care and child-rearing expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial expenses
Fatal car accident statute of limitations
It’s important to know that the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death claim in Georgia is limited by the “statute of limitations.”
The clock starts ticking from the date of the fatal crash.
Pursuing legal action while you are grieving might seem too much of a burden to bear. But don’t wait too long to explore your legal options. Talk with our compassionate attorneys as soon as possible.
How to calculate wrongful death damages
Putting a dollar amount on the loss of your loved one is a seemingly impossible task that some grieving survivors find distasteful and disrespectful to the memory of the person they lost in such a tragic way. However, the law requires that dependents come up with a specified figure that the at-fault driver must pay.
What’s more, this compensation can be a key component to helping you and your family find closure and financial security while you process your loss.
Just as many folks need a therapist, support group or friends and family to help them process the immense emotional trauma and grief they experience following the death of a loved one, you may find that you need help from a knowledgeable and experienced legal expert who can help calculate your damages and set you on the path to financial recovery and restitution.
There are no easy answers when it comes to fatal car accidents, but one step that can prove helpful is consulting a car accident attorney near you who can help your family find some measure of closure through financial recovery and security.
Car accident resources
Contact us to schedule your free and confidential consultation with an experienced wrongful death attorney. You will owe us no fees unless we recover compensation for you.