If you’ve found your way to this page as the result of a personal tragedy, we’re truly sorry for your loss. Losing a child is one of the worst experiences anyone can be forced to endure, and we’re here to help however we can.
We’ll start by defining terms. While there’s obviously no such thing as a rightful death of a child, a “wrongful death” is a death caused by the misdeeds of others.
Wrongful death can be the result of many forms of negligence and even malice, including:
If you believe your child’s death could be considered wrongful in this way, you’re probably right. It’s a sad fact that thousands of children die of preventable causes in the U.S every year. In fact, a recent study by Health Affairs identified the U.S as easily the most dangerous place for children out of the world’s 20 richest nations.
While our high child mortality rate can be partially attributed to our lower rate of healthcare access, the single leading cause of death for U.S children is actually accidents.
Meanwhile, homicide is the fourth leading cause of death for U.S children aged 1-14, and the third leading cause for adolescents aged 15 and up. Looking at these numbers, it’s hugely common for the death of a child to be caused, clearly or arguably, by another person.
Who Can Make a Claim for Wrongful Death of a Child?
Under Georgia law, either or both parents may pursue a claim for the wrongful death of their child, with a few exceptions. For example, parents usually cannot sue for wrongful death if the child is married, has a child of his or her own, or if legal parenthood has been transferred by adoption.
Even if your child was legally an adult at the time of death, you can still make a wrongful death claim as next of kin if he or she was unmarried and had no children.
If you are not the child’s parent, either biologically or through adoption, things get a bit more complicated. In cases where a minor dies with no living parents, only the appointed executor of the estate can make the claim on behalf of the next of kin.
What Does It Mean to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a claim for the “full value of the life” — a concept that’s exactly as vague as it sounds, especially in the case of children.
When an adult dies, it’s usually possible to estimate lost earning power as a jumping off point for compensation. The death of a child is just as devastating if not more so, but because the child is usually a financial dependent, rather than a breadwinner, there’s no such basis for coming up with a dollar amount.
Thankfully, Georgia law acknowledges an “intangible component” to the value of a life. The intangible component refers to all the things that make a loss most painful. It encompasses the joy, companionship, sense of purpose, and other enhancements the deceased brought to the lives of his or her loved ones.
Essentially, the intangible component is the law’s best effort at doing the impossible: placing a dollar value on love. There’s no perfect way to do this, and no settlement will ever make up for the loss of your child, but most juries recognize the magnitude of such a loss and place a high value on it nonetheless, in the only way they’re empowered to do so.
Many people are surprised to learn that a wrongful death claim only covers the lost life itself, not the funerary expenses, or any pain or medical bills the child may have incurred before death. While the surviving parent or parents can make a direct claim for the wrongful death, the child’s estate must make a separate claim to cover these additional considerations.
Because children usually do not have wills in place, it is necessary to petition the court to appoint an executor of the estate. That might sound complicated, but our experts at the Stoddard Firm are ready to walk you smoothly through setting up the estate, as well as all other processes surrounding your child’s wrongful death.
Life after Losing a Child
As one would expect, parents who have lost children are far more likely to suffer from depression, marital disruption, and a variety of health problems. These risks can be reduced through certain coping techniques, such as focusing attention on surviving children, if any, or on other aspects of life that provide a sense of purpose. The risks do not decrease with the passage of time, however, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
The effects of your child’s death will be with you forever, and you’ll need to take extra care of your physical and mental health as a result. You might need to seek help in the form of individual or family counseling, and having the means to do so will give you a better chance at living your best life.
If the circumstances of your child’s death were more than a single, one-off scenario, you may also be able to take solace in knowing that your settlement can serve as a deterrent, preventing the same tragedy from befalling other families.
Immediately after the death of your child, you’ll need to take time to grieve, process, and spend time with loved ones. Unfortunately, the short window of time you have to file a wrongful death claim doesn’t offer much consideration for this need. In these situations, it helps to have someone on your side you can trust to take care of the paperwork, giving you more space to mourn and heal.
Give us a call or reach out to us online to schedule your free consultation and learn more about how we can help.
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