We Are Whelchel & Carlton, LLP

Understanding the calculation of damages in a wrongful death case

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2023 | Wrongful Death

The death of a relative or loved one can stick with a person for decades. Death is hard enough when it comes from illness or natural causes. But it is even harder to handle if it comes from neglect. Monetary compensation will not bring back the dead loved one. However, it may help the family cope financially. Georgia law allows different types of damages to be recovered based on the circumstances of a wrongful death case.

Recoverable damages from a wrongful death claim

By law, damages involving a lawsuit may include:

  • Medical costs
  • Funeral expenses
  • Pain and suffering of the deceased
  • Full value of the life of the deceased

In most wrongful death cases, the full value of life of the deceased is the most valuable part of the claim. The full value of life gets looked at from two angles, economic and non-economic. The economic component includes the present value of the deceased individual’s future earnings. This includes the services the individual might have rendered throughout their average life expectancy. The non-economic aspects are intangible elements that a jury usually decides on.

Punitive damages

In Georgia, somebody cannot seek punitive damages in a wrongful death claim, but they may be available in connection with the estate’s claim for the deceased person’s predeath pain, suffering, and injuries. However, the standard of proof for predeath pain, suffering, and injuries is higher than usual, requiring “clear and convincing” evidence to prove willful misconduct, such as wantonness, oppression, or malice.

When someone seeks punitive damages, the court will determine liability and general damages before deciding whether the punitive damages award is appropriate. The next phase will calculate the amount of punitive damages awarded based on “such evidence as is relevant.” Alternatively, courts may conduct a trifurcated process, where liability and compensatory damages are determined in the first phase, liability for punitive damages in the second phase, and the amount of punitive damages awarded in the third phase.

While nothing can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, seeking financial compensation through a wrongful death claim can assist families in beginning the healing process.