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Damages for Wrongful Death

Once the plaintiff has established the defendant’s liability in a wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must prove the type and amount of damages to which he or she is entitled. Law Office of Donald P. Edwards, P.C. has dedicated its practice to helping injured people receive the compensation they deserve. The amount and type of damages available in a wrongful death case vary based upon the particular matter’s circumstances. Some types of damages and methods for calculating damages are described below. If a loved one has been wrongfully injured or killed, call Law Office of Donald P. Edwards now to discuss the damages that may be recoverable in your case.

Amount of Damages

Georgia wrongful death law places no statutory limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded for a wrongful death claim. Generally, the jury determines the amount of damages in a wrongful death suit. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(a). The amount of damages awarded is a fact-specific determination and can vary dramatically from case-to-case. The jury may consider the decedent’s age, life expectancy, occupation, health condition, spending habits, level of activity, interests, death and surrounding circumstances along with other factors in determining an appropriate damage award.

Full Value of the Life of the Decedent

Georgia wrongful death law seeks to redress entitled parties with an amount that represents the “full value of the life of the decedent,” the monetary value of the deceased’s life established by the evidence without deducting for any of the deceased’s necessary or personal expenses had he or she lived. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1(1). The full value of the life of the decedent may include items with proven monetary value like lost potential lifetime earnings, income, or services, reduced to present cash value, or lost intangibles like a parent’s society, advice, and counsel as determined by the “enlightened conscience of jury.” Consolidated Freightways Corp. v. Futrell, 410 S.E.2d 751 (Ga. Ct. App. 1991). The full value of the life of the decedent is a figure that the jury is asked to decide using their “enlightened conscience.” As discussed above, the jury may consider both economic and non-economic factors in determining the full value of the life of the decedent.

Present Value

When calculating the economic component of the full value of the decedent’s life, the jury is often instructed to equate this sum to the amount’s present value. The present value calculation accounts for future losses in today’s monetary terms and allows wrongful death awards to be paid in a lump sum.

In order to calculate present value, the future economic loss is typically first calculated using a life expectancy table. This table is only a guide and the jury may consider the life habits and health of the decedent in estimating life expectancy. In other words, the jury may conclude that the decedent’s life expectancy was longer or shorter than suggested by table guidelines. After a probable life expectancy is derived, the number of years that the decedent would have lived is multiplied by the annual income that would have been received. Once this future loss is calculated, it is discounted using a mathematical formula. The purpose for discounting this sum is to arrive at the present value of the lost dollars that would have been received by the decedent over a period of time.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering damages may be available where it is demonstrated that the decedent suffered before death occurred. Whether, how much, and how long the plaintiff suffered are issues for the jury to decide. Similarly, the measure of damages is also for the “enlightened consciences of fair and impartial jurors.” Walker v. Daniels, 407 S.E.2d 70 (Ga. Ct. App. 1991). The fact-intensive issue of whether a decedent was conscious and suffered pain or anxiety before their death is frequently disputed. See, e.g., Dep’t. of Transp. v. Dupree, 570 S.E.2d 1 (Ga. Ct. App. 2002) (addressing whether the decedent had several seconds to realize the impending impact of a car); Beam v. Kingsley, 566 S.E.2d 437 (Ga. Ct. App. 2002) (approving a pain and suffering awards of $2.5 million where decedent’s death resulted from choking on his own blood); Walker v. Daniels, 407 S.E.2d 70 (Ga. Ct. App. 1991) (where Appellants called into issue the decedent’s consciousness prior to his drowning). Performing a thorough investigation, collecting and presenting evidence, and delivering a persuasive argument to the court are critical tasks for an experienced trial attorney whenever pain and suffering damages are at stake.

Medical and Funeral Expenses

Damages based upon the decedent’s funeral expenses, medical costs, and “other necessary expenses resulting from the [decedent’s] injury and death” may also be available in a wrongful death suit. O.C.G.A. § 51-4-5(b) ; Beam v. Kingsley, 566 S.E.2d 437 (Ga. Ct. App. 2002) (approving an award including funeral expenses); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 535 S.E.2d 511 (Ga. Ct. App. 2000) (approving a settlement including medical expenses). To be eligible to recover these types of awards, the parties seeking recovery must somehow bear the burden of paying associated funeral expenses or medical costs incidental to the injury that caused the decedent’s death. Where funeral or medical expenses apply, a damage award may be supplemented with any appropriate interest payment.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are awarded in torts cases to punish or deter a defendant. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(a) (link to ). Punitive damages may be awarded only where the plaintiff establishes that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or a high degree of carelessness. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b). Generally, to justify a claim for punitive damages, aggravating circumstances must exist in the act or the intention of the wrongdoer. McBride v. General Motors Corp., 737 F.Supp. 1563, 1576 (M.D.Ga. 1990) (noting that “[p]unitive damages are not permitted in wrongful death actions in Georgia, for this would permit a double recovery to the plaintiff”); Berman v. U.S., 572 F.Supp. 1486 (N.D. Ga. 1983) (holding that under Georgia law, punitive damages are not recoverable in a wrongful death action, notwithstanding the intentional or willful act of the defendant).

In all matters involving wrongful death it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. If a loved one has been a victim of wrongful death, call Law Office of Donald P. Edwards now at 404-526-8866 or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don’t delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.
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The above is not legal advice. That can only come from a qualified attorney who is familiar with all the facts and circumstances of a particular, specific case and the relevant law. See Terms of Use.

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