Wrongful Death Damages in Georgia

In Georgia, under the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 51-4-1 and 2, the measure of damages in a wrongful death action is “full value of the life of the decedent as shown by the evidence, without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived.” The full value of the life of the decedent includes not only all economic damages sustained by the decedent such as lost wages, but also non-economic damages such as the enjoyment of life. Peculiar to Georgia law, the measure of damages is from the standpoint of the decedent. What did the decedent lose? Obviously, if someone was married and employed at the time of death, they lost the society and affection of their wife and children and the enjoyment of their career. By looking at the damage question from the standpoint of the decedent, the jury is not allowed to look at the sympathy and bereavement of the surviving heirs, but must view the evidence from the standpoint of what the decedent lost when their life was wrongfully taken from them by the negligence of the third party who has been sued for their wrongful death.
With respect to non-economic damages, obviously, this is a very broad term which includes not only enjoyment of life but also advice, assistance, care, companionship, counsel, and loving services. These are the “non-economic” portions of the damage caused by the wrongful death which when coupled with the economic damages (typically the amount of money lost by the wrongful death), total the “full value of the life of the decedent.”
Obviously, in proving damages in a wrongful death case, it is important that counsel prove that the decedent’s life had more value apart from their own economic producing potential. Typically, the largest component of a wrongful death claim involves the non-economic damages. Many people who are extremely gifted may not be high wage earners and yet the full value of their life may be greater than the life of a high wage earner. People like poets, artists, musicians, and some retirees may have a much fuller life than younger people but in any case, under Georgia law, the unique provisions of the law are such that a jury must determine the “full value” of the life of the decedent from the standing point of the decedent involved in the case. By making allowances for both economic and non-economic portions of the damages, the jury is given wide latitude in determining what compensation would be fair and reasonable under the circumstances of any given case where a wrongful death has occurred.

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