Wrongful Death Damages

When someone is killed due to the negligence of a third party, a wrongful death action can be filed in order to recover the “full value of the life of the decedent” as determined by the “enlightened conscience” of fair and impartial jurors. The measure of damages is defined exactly this way under Georgia law. That being, what amount of compensation would provide adequate reimbursement for “the full value” of the life of the decedent. This seems almost impossible to calculate because one can put no price tag on the value of human life. We all have only one life to live and if our life is wrongfully terminated due to the negligence of a third party, no amount of money can ever compensate for such a loss. Nonetheless, in our legal system, juries are instructed that they should award the full value of the life of the decedent as demonstrated by the evidence if they find that a person died due to the negligence or misconduct of a third party.
In determining the full value of the life of any decedent, the jury has to look at the background of the decedent, what they had accomplished in their life, what their prospects were for the future, etc. They have to look at the age and health of the decedent, their economic potential, their earnings history, etc. Obviously, all such considerations are complicated if the decedent is a child, is elderly or someone who is disabled. Thus, the law advises the jury that they should look not only to the tangible losses caused by the wrongful death (that being a loss of income) but also the intangible value of life itself, that being what the decedent lost at the time of their death.
Georgia law is unique in that it measures damages not from the standpoint of the surviving members of the decedent’s family, but rather from the standpoint of the decedent himself/herself. The jury is supposed to look at what the decedent lost, that being relationships with family members, marriage, relationships with children, loss of income, loss of earning potential and loss of the joy of life itself. Again, this is a very difficult calculus for any jury but nonetheless this is exactly what juries in Georgia are told to do.
In future blogs we will discuss further how juries go about determining damages in a wrongful death case. As indicated, the benchmark is “the full value of the life of the decedent” governed by “the enlightened conscience” of fair and impartial jurors.

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