Wrongful Death Damages: A Divided Question

We have blogged before about some unique provisions of Georgia law. As an example, the measure of damages in a wrongful death case is measured from the standpoint of the decedent, not the decedent’s survivors. Another very unique provision of Georgia law is the division between a decedent’s damages and the damages sustained by his or her estate. In this regard, Georgia has a somewhat bifurcated approach to damages when someone loses their life through the negligent conduct of a third party. In such a case, typically, two different plaintiffs are involved. One are the heirs-at-law of the decedent and the second is the estate which sues for burial expenses, any conscious pain and suffering prior to death and medical expenses, if any, that were incurred prior to death.

Under Georgia law, the measure of damages for a wrongful death case is the full value of the life of the decedent. However, this is for the wrongful death case only. The decedent’s estate also has a claim for damages, again, which are different from the measure of damages for the wrongful death case. The full value of the life of the decedent does not include medical expenses incurred prior to death. The full value of the life of the decedent only includes the economic and non-economic components attributable to the wrongful death. An estate’s claim is entirely different for funeral and burial expenses and other attendant damages which can include pre-impact fright and suffering and/or pre-death pain and suffering experienced by the decedent. In future blogs we will elaborate on these divided issues which helps to explain why Georgia law is very unique in the wrongful death context.

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