In Georgia, the Measure of Damages for Wrongful Death is the Full Value of the Life of the Deceased
It includes both economic damages (projected lifetime income, with no deduction for living expenses or income taxes, value of services, etc.) and intangible factors such as the enjoyment of the experience of living. The "full value of the life" is determined solely by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury. Unlike some states, Georgia imposes no statutory formula or arbitrary limit on the damages awarded in a wrongful death case.
Economic Value of the Life May Be Reduced to Present Value, but Intangible Aspects of the Value of Life Are Not Reduced to Present Value
For example, if an economist testifies to the projected lifetime earnings and benefits the deceased would have received, the economist's projection must be reduced to present value using assumptions about interest and discount rates. However, when the jury determines the intangible value of the lost experience of living, that number is not reduced.
A Surviving Spouse Has the Right to Sue for Wrongful Death in Georgia, but Must Share the Recovery Equally with Surviving Children of the Decedent
Where the surviving spouse is required to share a wrongful death recovery with the decedent's minor child, the child's share up to $15,000 may be held by the child's natural guardian without posting a bond. If a minor child's share of the recovery is $15,000 or more, a guardian of the child's property must be qualified in probate court, and a bond posted. The bond requirement may be avoided if the probate court approves a structured settlement with annuity payments going to the child after attaining age 18, with the cash held by the child's natural guardian remaining less than $15,000.
If There Is No Surviving Spouse, the Right Goes to Surviving Children
If the surviving spouse is missing, a court may permit the children to pursue the death claim alone.
If There Is Neither a Spouse nor Child Surviving, Then the Decedent's Parents Have the Right to Sue under Georgia Law
If the parents of a deceased child are divorced or living apart, the trial court has full discretion to allocate the wrongful death recovery between them, considering any pertinent factors. There have been cases of an uninvolved absentee father being limited to as little as one half of one percent of the total recovery for the wrongful death of a child.
In the Absence of a Surviving Spouse, Child, or Parent, the Administrator of the Decedent's Estate Can Sue on Behalf of the Next of Kin
Even if the next of kin is a minor, e.g., a sibling, an anomaly in current Georgia law requires that an administrator file suit within two years from the date of death.
The Decedent's Estate Also Has a Claim for Medical and Funeral Expenses, and for Conscious Pain and Suffering
In addition to the wrongful death claim for the full value of the life, the administrator or executor of the decedent's estate has a claim for the decedent's medical and funeral expenses, and for conscious pain and suffering before death. Punitive damages may be awarded in connection with such a survival action on behalf of the estate. Within the requirements of allocation of damages to the spouse and children, survivors can choose to put a monetary award for wrongful death to any good use, whether to support a family deprived of the breadwinner, to educate children, or to fund a charity in the memory of the deceased.
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