Suffering the death of a loved one is an invariably painful and emotionally devastating experience. The trauma of this loss is compounded exponentially when the causes leading to harm could have been avoided. If your loved one passed away because of the negligence of another party, whether it is another individual or a business, you may be entitled to compensation. In law, these cases are known as wrongful death suits. This article will give you a brief overview of which circumstances can lead to a successful wrongful death suit and what steps you should expect to follow moving forward, if you decide to pursue this route.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
In order for a party to file a wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must claim that the death in question was caused by an intent to harm or the negligence of the defendant. This is a broad set of criteria that can include cases of:
- Medical Malpractice
- Auto Accidents
- Exposure to hazardous materials at work
It is important to note that in these cases, the act of prosecuting a defendant for criminal charges does not preclude family members from also suing that same defendant in a civil wrongful death suit, once the criminal case has ended.
There are a number of reasons for families to choose to bring civil wrongful death suits in addition to criminal charges. In the latter, the state’s prosecutor wields discretion over the scope and direction of the case. In civil matters, the plaintiff works directly with a lawyer to decide which direction to pursue. Also, the burden of proof is lower in civil cases than it is in criminal ones. For instance, a plaintiff is only required to prove that the defendant “should have known better” in some scenarios, thus negating the role of intentionality. In addition:
- Civil wrongful death cases may result in substantial compensation for the aggrieved party.
- It is possible for juries to reach not guilty verdicts in criminal cases, yet find the same defendants responsible for monetary damages in civil cases.
Perhaps the most notable example of this dichotomy was the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil cases for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Famously, Mr. Simpson was found not guilty when he faced criminal charges for their murders. But, the Brown and Goldman families initiated a wrongful death civil suit, in which they were awarded a $25 million punitive award from the jury.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Civil Suit?
There are a few different people who can file a suit. Obviously, the subject of the suit will not be able to bring charges themselves in wrongful death lawsuits, as opposed to other personal injury cases. Therefore, the spouse is usually the first party to pursue legal action. If the spouse is not able or willing to sue, then the children of the deceased may do so instead. If there is no living next of kin, then the individual with power of attorney over the deceased’s estate may initiate legal action.
How is Compensation Determined?
In Georgia, there are a number of factors that juries will consider when determining the size of wrongful death damages, such as:
- Lost income from the deceased, including projected future earnings.
- The kind of non-quantifiable pleasures that families enjoy, like quality time spent together and the ability of parents to care for a child’s social, emotional, and physical health.
- Funeral expenses.
- Medical expenses.
- Whether or not the deceased suffered physical or emotional trauma before death.
Each one of these factors may play a pivotal role in a jury’s deliberations. In my experience, juries are more likely to find defendants liable in civil cases than they are in criminal ones. That is likely because the stakes are lower. It is easier for 12 people to agree on ordering an individual to pay for lost wages than it is to mandate that someone serve time in prison. With juries more likely to return verdicts that favor plaintiffs’ cases, the likelihood that families or estates receive compensation for their losses also increases.
Contact a Skilled Wrongful Death Lawyer in Georgia
Families dealing with the loss of a loved one face enormous emotional challenges. At Schneider Hammers, our goal is to ensure that the families we represent are able to find justice before the law so their troubles are not compounded by financial difficulties. We are here to help in your time of need. That is an honor that we take seriously. Call today to speak with one of our experienced wrongful death lawyers.