If someone ? either through carelessness or criminal activity ? has caused the death of anyone in your family, you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit to recover compensation from the at-fault party. That lawsuit is known as a wrongful death claim. The damages you can recover in a successful wrongful death suit include the monetary value of the deceased’s life and expenses that were incurred due to the tragedy, such as medical and funeral expenses. You must file a claim before the statute of limitations runs out, which in Georgia is two years after the decedent’s death.
Here are two noteworthy examples of wrongful death claims:
A wrongful death caused by negligence
On June 3, a building in Philadelphia that was being demolished collapsed onto a nearby thrift store, killing six people. Philadelphia officials are investigating the exact reason for the building collapse. The demolition contractor, Griffin Campbell Construction, and representatives from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections are under investigation for causing the deaths. The persons or businesses at fault for the building collapse are likely to be named as defendants in a possible wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the families of the victims.
A wrongful death involving criminal intent: the civil trial against O.J. Simpson
Although O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges in his criminal trial, he was found legally responsible for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in a subsequent civil trial. In that proceeding, the families of the victims sued O.J. Simpson and won $33 million in damages.
Burden of proof
In a criminal case, the prosecution must convince all jurors of the defendant's guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order for a defendant to be convicted. However, in a civil case, the evidence need only convince the jury that the defendant is more likely than not to blame for the incident (“preponderance of the evidence”). The jury in O.J. Simpson's criminal trial was not persuaded of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but the jury in his subsequent civil trial was sufficiently convinced of Simpson’s liability to make him pay hefty damages to the victims’ families.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
Under Georgia law, only the following people may file a wrongful death claim:
A surviving spouse or child of an adult who has died
The surviving parents of a child who has been killed
The personal representative of the decedent’s estate, on behalf of their beneficiaries