Punitive Damages In A Wrongful Death Context

Because damages in a wrongful death context are measured from the standpoint of the decedent and are considered under Georgia case authority to be somewhat punitive since the damages include compensation for the full value of the life of the decedent, in a wrongful death case, per se, punitive damages cannot be sought. However, in a case where there has been pre-impact fright and terror, pain and suffering associated with injuries prior to death and/or property damages sustained by the estate, the estate can sue for punitive damages assuming the facts of the case are sufficiently aggravated as to justify an award of punitive damages against the at fault party.
By way of example only, in a case where a drunk driver causes a wrongful death and the decedent survives for a period and is hospitalized and incurs medical expenses prior to death, the estate can sue the driver for pain and suffering prior to death, funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses and punitive damages. The heirs-at-law may only sue for the full value of the life of the decedent and may not seek punitive damages as part of such wrongful death damages since the wrongful death statute is considered to be somewhat punitive by nature. The Administrator can sue for punitive damages where aggravated circumstances are involved even though the decedent’s heirs-at-law may not. Again, the bifurcated nature of these claims in Georgia is unique and while punitive damages may not be obtained in the wrongful death case itself, they can be obtained as part of the estate’s damages. If the estate obtains such damages, the Administrator will divide the damage award among the heirs-at-law.

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