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Berelc Law Firm, P.C. April 5, 2016

Potential Damages when Your Loved One Is the Victim of “Wrongful Death” in Georgia

When pursuing money damages for your losses in a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, the measure is the “full value” of the deceased person’s life. Georgia courts will take into consideration economic, as well as non-economic, factors of the decedent’s life when determining that “full value”. Unlike most other states, though, Georgia’s way of calculating the value of an individual’s life does not involve a strict, formula-based limit on one’s life value. The value of the life – for purposes of money damages in a suit – is looked at from both an economic and non-economic standpoint.

In considering the “economic” portion of the analysis, Georgia courts will seek to calculate the present value of the deceased person’s potential future earnings. In determining the earning capacity of an individual, the inquiry focuses on the history of earnings by the person, as well as the person’s age, education, health, and general earnings of the population in which the decedent lived. If a family is making a claim in which the deceased person was single and unemployed, with no significant work history, then the value of that claim will be very difficult to prove and will likely be determined to be a low amount.

If the deceased person was a steadily employed, high-earning individual, though, then the survivors may have significant – potentially extremely high – claims for the loss of that person. In such a case, a jury may also feel especially sympathetic towards the spouse and children of the deceased, and as a result, jurors are more likely to award a higher verdict. In determining the economic value of the deceased person’s life, Georgia courts will instruct jurors to take into account, among other factors, elements including the decedent’s age/health at the time of death and type/value of work performed at the time of death (income level and potential).

In addition to the economic/tangible value of a person’s life, Georgia courts will consider the intangible value as well. The determination of this number is significantly less mathematical, predictable, or certain than the calculation of the economic/tangible value. Unlike calculation of the tangible value, determination of the noneconomic value of one’s life does not depend upon a certain formula. In these cases, Georgia judges instruct jurors to calculate the subjective, intangible value of life-based upon what the decedent’s life was worth to the decedent and loved ones. In making this determination, jurors are told to use their personal knowledge and experiences of human affairs. Jurors may consider almost all factors affecting the richness of a person’s life, including the individual’s relationships with family, church, and civic/social activities, as well as involvement with art, craftsmanship, or other hobbies.

Attorneys representing a deceased person in a wrongful death case may use evidence such as photos and videos of decedents’ activities, as well as the decedent’s photography, woodwork, artwork, and writings. The intangible value of a deceased person’s life may be proved through testimony of family members and friends, regarding their relationship with the decedent, as well as the decedent’s general enjoyment of life. Also, while the loss of relationships by a deceased person’s family and friends is not compensable under Georgia law, testimony by such persons, of such relationships, may also be considered as evidence of the relationships that the deceased person lost, upon his or her death.

The discussion in this BLOG entry of potential damages one could recover in a wrongful death action is, of course, simplified, for the purpose of providing a relatively brief analysis of the topic, and given the length provided for this article. In order to obtain the maximum amount of money damages in wrongful death, suit, one must seek out the most experienced and competent civil litigation attorneys, those at the Berelc Law Office, P.C. Our attorneys have extensive experience in civil litigation, as well as comprehensive contacts throughout the court systems of Northeast Georgia. Please call us, and let us seek the maximum award that is due to you.