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Liability: Who Can Be Held Responsible for a Wrongful Death?

By Butler Prather LLP on March 5, 2024

There are people in our lives who make everything better. You probably know someone who can always cheer you up, even when things are going really badly. When you lose a special person in your life, there’s no way to replace them and all the wonderful things they do for you.

Although a wrongful death claim will never make up for your loss, it can give you some measure of comfort by holding people accountable for their actions and providing compensation for the love and support that was taken away from you.

Wrongful death laws in Georgia allow spouses, children, and other family members the right to seek monetary damages against individuals, businesses, government agencies, or any party that caused your loved one’s death through a negligent, intentional, or illegal action.

What Is a Wrongful Death in Georgia?

Every state has its own laws that define wrongful death and determine who’s allowed to seek compensation in these cases. A wrongful death occurs when a person dies as the result of another person’s negligent or intentional conduct. Georgia’s wrongful death statute includes “all cases in which the death of a human being results from a crime, from criminal or other negligence, or from property which has been defectively manufactured, whether or not as the result of negligence.”

A surviving spouse is the first person who has the legal right to file a wrongful death claim in Georgia, followed by the victim’s children and then the victim’s parents. In cases where there isn’t a surviving family member to file a wrongful death claim, it may be filed by the estate, with the proceeds held for the victim’s next of kin.

A wrongful death claim is a civil action. Although the defendant in a wrongful death claim may be subject to criminal prosecution, a criminal conviction is not required to hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim. Unlike a criminal trial, the burden of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit is based on the preponderance of evidence. That means your attorney must produce evidence that is more credible and convincing than the evidence provided by the defendant.

Parties That May Be Held Liable for a Wrongful Death

Everyone has a duty of care to avoid actions that may cause reasonably foreseeable harm to others. There are many situations where someone’s negligent actions create circumstances that allow the victim’s survivors to pursue a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. Several parties may be held liable for a wrongful death in the following types of cases:

  • Motor vehicle accidents. Drivers may be liable when they commit illegal and unsafe actions such as speeding, careless lane changes, street racing, DUI, distracted driving, or running red lights and stop signs. Public officials and private contractors may be held liable for deaths caused by road hazards such as missing signs, drop-offs, and malfunctioning traffic signals. Owners and supervisors of trucking and delivery companies that engage in negligent hiring of unsafe drivers or fail to provide regular inspections and safety maintenance for their fleet may also be liable.
  • Dram shop laws. In Georgia, owners, supervisors, and wait staff at all businesses that serve alcohol may be liable for deaths that result when they provide liquor to someone who is under 21, and the server knows that the patron will be driving a motor vehicle.
  • Nursing home abuse. Owners, operators, supervisors, and employees may be held liable for patient deaths caused by the wrongful act of an employee, such as dropping a patient, violence, or patient neglect. Nursing homes must screen all new employees and make sure all staff receive the correct training and supervision.
  • Defective product cases. Georgia’s wrongful death laws specifically mention “defectively manufactured products.” Designers, manufacturers, distributors, marketers, and sellers can all be held liable for a product that causes death when used as intended. Failure to provide adequate warning labels is also grounds for product liability. Defective products that cause fatalities include motor vehicles and components, tools, toys, fire extinguishers, household appliances, fire alarms, generators, camping gear, and sporting goods.
  • Medical malpractice. Doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmacists, administrators, anesthesiologists, radiologists, and hospital staff can all be held liable for surgical errors, birth injuries, misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and other forms of negligence that result in a wrongful death.
  • Work-related wrongful death claims are subject to Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws. But private contractors, vendors, landlords, drivers, property owners, and others who do not work directly for the victim’s employer may be held liable in a civil lawsuit for events that result in a fatality.

Did Someone Take Away Your Loved One?

Butler Prather LLP has been getting justice for family members in wrongful death cases for over 35 years. We will advise you on the best way to move forward.

Super Lawyers recognizes Butler Prather LLP for providing our clients with outstanding service, and we’ve won settlements and verdicts for clients in over 30 states. Our Savannah injury attorneys have won nine verdicts that exceed $100 million and over 60 verdicts and settlements of over $10 million.

Reach out to us at (706) 322-1990 to schedule your complimentary consultation today.

Posted in: Wrongful Death

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