When the intentional or negligent actions of another lead to death, certain family members of the deceased may be entitled to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. According to Georgia law, in a wrongful death case, a spouse or child may recover “the value of the life of the decedent as shown by the evidence.” This value may include both economic damages as well as non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. In many instances, a significant portion of damages sought in a wrongful death claim will include lost future earnings.
A jury in a wrongful death case may award an amount equivalent to all income that the decedent would have earned over his or her expected lifetime had the decedent not been killed. This value may include salary and wages from the decedent’s employer. It may also include the value of other benefits the deceased would have accrued, such as employee benefits, pensions, investment returns, or the like. Because such an award in a wrongful death case includes future earnings, the amount of the award will be discounted to a present value. In Georgia, courts will calculate this present value by discounting future earnings by five percent.
What if the Deceased was Unemployed?
If the decedent was unemployed at the time of death, the spouse or children of the deceased may still recover lost future earnings. Juries are permitted to consider the age, education, health, work history, and other circumstances of the decedent when considering whether to award damages for lost future earnings. Thus, damages may be awarded even in instances where the decedent was a child, a student, disabled, or even incarcerated at the time of death. Additionally, juries may consider evidence that suggests the decedent would have likely received a promotion or otherwise advanced in his or her career so as to award future earnings greater than what the decedent was earning at the time of death.
What if the Deceased was a Child?
Although difficult to determine precisely what a child would have earned over the course of a lifetime, juries may consider evidence that generally suggests what the child’s earning power would have been. Such evidence may include statistics or trends that suggest the earning potential of people similarly situated.
What About the Stay At Home Spouse?
A spouse who stays at home to care for children, or otherwise take care of the home, does not earn an income per se. However, Georgia law recognizes that such spouses provide important services that have an economic value. In a wrongful death action, spouses or children may recover the economic value of household, childcare, and other services that the deceased would have provided during the course of his or her life. Such economic value may also include care given to an elderly or disabled relative.
Getting Help After the Loss of Your Loved One
If the intentional or negligent actions of another has caused the death of your loved one, you should contact a wrongful death attorney immediately. An experienced wrongful death attorney can review the facts of your case and determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they can help you seek the compensation you deserve.