Punitive Damages In Georgia Wrongful Death Actions

In Georgia, as a general rule, punitive damages are not allowed in a wrongful death action. Commentary in various legal decisions have indicated that because damages in a wrongful death are somewhat punitive by nature that an award of additional punitive damages would be inappropriate. While punitive damages may not be collected in a wrongful death action per se, nonetheless, because of the unique provisions of Georgia law which confer upon the personal representative the right to bring a claim for property damage and/or any conscious pain and suffering experienced by the decedent prior to death, where there is evidence of either property damage or conscious pain and suffering prior to death, punitive damages may be awarded.
In any wrongful death case where the decedent has experienced conscious pain and suffering counsel should have a personal representative appointed not only to seek compensation for such conscious pain and suffering but also for burial, funeral and related medical expenses. If the circumstances of the case warrant it, punitive damages may be recovered if aggravating circumstances are involved in the underlying liability claim. For example, if a drunk driver kills someone, obviously, punitive damages would be appropriate in such a case. However, under Georgia law, unless the decedent experienced conscious pain and suffering prior to death or there was property damage suffered by the decedent, a claim for punitive damages may not be brought by the personal representative. Again, such a claim can only be brought by the personal representative and cannot be brought by the heir-at-law in the wrongful death claim but only in the estate’s claim for the specified damages.

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