December 26, 2019
Pitts Carr and Alex Weatherby
How do you file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Whether you are filing a wrongful death action or any other case addressing injuries to a person, the first step is to make a decision as to where you will file the lawsuit. The value of a wrongful death case, and any other case for that matter, is in some measure determined by the location of the suit. In legal terms, the location of the suit is called the “venue.” In Georgia, the location will generally be in a “county” where the defendant lives. If the defendant is a company, the venue will generally be the location where the company’s “registered agent” is located.
A registered agent is a person that the company designates to accept service for the company. A registered agent can be located by going on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.
There are 159 Counties in Georgia. Obviously, we cannot address them all. However, if you are in the Atlanta area for a Plaintiff’s case, the preferred jurisdictions would be DeKalb and Clayton. Other favorable jurisdictions would include Bibb and Chatham Counties. So what makes a particular county more desirable than others? The answer is simple; a history of large verdicts in favor of plaintiffs.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
Before filing suit for a fatal accident, you need to make sure that you’re the appropriate person to file the claim. One of the biggest questions if who can file a wrongful death claim? This can be a very complex question. Those having the right to bring a cause of action for wrongful death are as follows (in order of priority): (1) surviving spouse; (2) children; (3) parents; and (4) administrator/executor of the estate.
How do I know what to put in the Complaint?
It is essential that the person filing a wrongful death action have as full understanding of the facts related to the fatal accident as possible. This would include: (a) the date of the accident; (b) the location of the accident; (c) the parties involved; (d) the acts and omissions of the people being sued; and (e) that the death was actually caused by those acts. In some cases, it is not possible to know all of the facts before filing suit. That is OK, so long as you have a sufficient amount of facts to make your case. The more information you have, the better.
In a typical wrongful death case, there will be allegations of negligence. This means that the Plaintiff will allege that the Defendant committed some acts or omissions, different than what a reasonable person would do, that resulted in the death of the loved one. This is called a “negligence” count.
There will also be allegations of damages. When there is a wrongful death, Georgia law provides that the recovery is “full value of the life of the decedent.” This is determined by the circumstances of the person’s life. There are two components: an “economic value” and the “intangible element”. The economic value generally consists of the earnings or other economic value of lifetime services. This may involve a complex calculation of lifetime earnings and other economic value. An economist may be used to help place this amount into a number.
The “intangible” element is the what life is worth when lived. This is up to the jury to determine. The jury will consider facts such as the relationships, quality of life, and enjoyment of activities.
In some rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded for the defendant’s egregious conduct in the accident. This is very rare. Punitive damages are recoverable when the defendant acted with intent, malice, or some other egregious action.
Do I need a lawyer to file a wrongful death suit?
A wrongful death suit is not something you should try and file on your own. It is a complex area of law, and you need a seasoned wrongful death attorney to help you. Our firm has recovered millions for wrongful death victims, and we have received one of the largest wrongful death verdicts in Georgia history.
We offer free consults. We practice throughout Georgia.