Assessing Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

We have written before about the unique provisions of Georgia law in the wrongful death context. If, due to the negligence of a third party, an innocent person is killed, the offending party is liable in damages for compensation for the “full value of the decedent.” The full value of the life of the decedent is comprised of both economic and non-economic components. Anytime someone is killed, they can no longer earn and labor and therefore all of the money they may have earned over the remaining portion of their working life has been taken from them. In addition, their one life to live has been taken from them and the non-economic intangible value of life itself, therefore, must be determined. Under Georgia law, both determinations are made from the perspective of the decedent, not from the perspective of the decedent’s family or surviving relatives.

The measure of damages for a wrongful death case in Georgia is, again, the “enlightened conscience” of fair and impartial jurors seeking to do justice in a particular case. By analyzing all the available evidence to determine both the economic and non-economic damages sustained in a particular case, jurors are faced with the task of determining the full value of the life of the decedent based on what the decedent lost at the time of his or her death. This can be a daunting task and therefore counsel must assist the jury in analyzing the various components of the decedent’s life, including their work history, their relationship with family members, the state of health, their age and other demographic factors. The younger the victim, the longer the life expectancy and therefore the greater the loss. While those who are negligently killed in the latter part of their lives also lose the balance of what the future held for them, the loss presumably would be less than a younger person because of the age difference. In either circumstance, however, the calculation to be made by the jury is to provide fair and reasonable compensation for the loss of life.

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