Nothing can ever make losing a family member easy. There are, however, plenty of things that can make it harder. Financial hardships and a lingering sense of unresolved injustice are both high on that list.
If you’ve recently lost a loved one because of someone else’s carelessness or malice, a wrongful death suit can help alleviate these extra burdens, so that you can focus on grieving and healing in peace.
Below, we’ll go over common types of wrongful death in Sandy Springs, and what to expect if you decide to file a wrongful death suit in Sandy Springs. If you’d rather speak directly with a qualified local attorney, please feel free to reach out by phone or chat at any time.
A Death Is Wrongful When It’s Caused by Someone Else’s Negligence
Death rarely feels right, no matter when or how it comes, so it’s important to clarify what we mean by “wrongful” death in a legal context.
Essentially, a wrongful death is a death that would not have happened if everyone had lived up to their responsibilities toward the deceased. The legal responsibilities people have toward one another vary and change over the course of a lifetime, sometimes even over the course of a few minutes, based on power dynamics and explicit or implicit agreements.
For example, an on-duty firefighter has a responsibility to try to rescue people in accordance with their department’s policies, even at the risk of their own life. But if that same firefighter happens to run across a burning building on their day off, with no equipment or backup, they’re not obligated to run inside and help.
That said, even random strangers with no special commitments have a responsibility to refrain from taking reckless risks with each other’s safety, such as by setting a building on fire in the first place.
Causing harm by failing to meet one’s responsibilities in a given situation is what’s known as negligence.
Negligence is not the cause of every death, but it causes more than you might think. Most of what people think of as freak accidents are actually predictable consequences of negligence.
Even deaths that present as natural causes can sometimes stem from negligence. For example, terminal cancer is usually no one’s fault, but it could be, if the victim spent a lot of time near a radiology clinic with inadequate shielding, or if a doctor ignored an early warning sign that could have bought time for life-saving treatment.
Considering how difficult, painful, and costly it is to lose a loved one, it’s worth taking a close look at the circumstances and questioning whether you’re owed more support than you’re getting.
There Are Many Ways Wrongful Deaths in Sandy Springs Can Occur
Because negligence can take so many forms, the concept of wrongful death encompasses a vast range of actual causes of death. It can be helpful to group them into a few major categories.
- Traffic accidents — Car and truck wrecks are one of the most common types of serious accident. They’ve historically been the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 45, only recently being surpassed by drug overdose. We’ve devoted a full page to traffic accidents in Sandy Springs, especially on the 400 and I-285, which you may also wish to review if you have lost a loved one this way.
- Premises accidents — Property owners who open their premises to tenants or guests have a duty to make sure those premises are as safe as reasonably possible. This concept applies in a lot of different situations, from slippery grocery store floors to apartment building gas leaks, and even dangerous architectural designs in publicly-owned spaces, like parks or bus stops. One particular danger Sandy Springs has been facing lately is a lack of lifeguard coverage. If a water recreation facility overworks its lifeguards past the point where they can be attentive, or allows people to swim unguarded without posting warnings, that would qualify as a premises liability issue.
- Defective products — Manufacturers of physical goods are responsible for making sure their products are as safe as possible for normal use before they reach consumers. Even gun manufacturers, the industry most protected from product liability, can be held liable if a design flaw makes it needlessly easy for a weapon to discharge by accident. Product liability can also apply to retailers who sell items they know (or should know) are dangerous. This has been a major issue among used car dealers lately. One SUV that lost its airbags in an accident and never had them replaced was reportedly found for sale without safety warnings at Gravity Auto Sales in Sandy Springs.
- Negligent care — Everyone has a standing duty to make sure their daily activities and/or business practices don’t unreasonably, actively endanger anyone. There are some situations, however, in which people and businesses take on much greater, specific responsibilities for individuals’ wellbeing. Classic examples include doctors and healthcare organizations, assisted living facilities, and daycare centers for children, elders, and adults with disabilities. Caregivers and healthcare providers are not automatically liable for every death that happens on their watch (sometimes death truly can’t be prevented), but they are responsible for taking all reasonable measures to ensure the health and safety of those in their care. If you believe you have lost a loved one to medical malpractice or neglect in a care facility, there’s a good chance you have a viable wrongful death case.
- Violent crime — The term “wrongful death” isn’t limited to accidents. When one person deliberately and unjustifiably takes the life of another, or inflicts deliberate injuries which later prove fatal, that’s very much a wrongful death. When violent crime happens on commercial or rental property, the property owner may also be liable for wrongful death, in addition to the perpetrator. This is because part of providing safe premises is providing adequate security to protect occupants from foreseeable threats. Violence, and especially gun violence, is a known danger in many areas of Sandy Springs. Just last year, we had separate shootings at the Venetian Bar and Grill, the Orchard Park Shopping Center, and the Circa 400 Apartments complex.
This is a fairly representative list of common types of wrongful death, but not an exhaustive one. If your loved one’s death does not fit any of the scenarios above, but you still believe it was wrongful, you should absolutely discuss it with a lawyer.
Georgia Has a Defined Hierarchy for Who May Sue for Wrongful Death
Death can leave a wide radius of pain behind, impacting extended family, friends, and colleagues. Even when the deceased is a fairly private person, surviving family members are often surprised to discover just how many lives their loved one has touched. The grief of the survivors can also impact the lives of still more people, whether they knew the deceased personally or not.
While these broader effects of death are real and devastating, most of them are not legal cause for wrongful death compensation. Only the next of kin has the right to bring a wrongful death suit in Georgia.
In this context, “next of kin” is fairly strictly defined as follows:
- Spouse. If the spouse and the deceased have children together, a share of the compensation will typically be allocated for those children. However, the spouse does not need the children’s permission to pursue, or decline to pursue, a wrongful death case, regardless of the children’s ages.
- Child. If the deceased has no living spouse, their child or children, regardless of age, may bring a wrongful death suit themselves.
- Parent. If the deceased has no living spouse or children, the parents of the deceased can sue for wrongful death. Both biological parents must be given the opportunity to participate, unless they have formally lost or relinquished parental rights, or cannot be located. One legal parent may sue alone if there is no other legal parent, or if the other legal parent declines.
- Estate executor or administrator. If there is no living spouse, child, or parent with legal rights, the only other person who may sue for wrongful death is the executor or administrator of the estate. In this case, any settlement becomes part of the estate, to be allocated to the beneficiaries at a later time.
Of course, even though these rules seem simple on paper, familial relationships are often much more complex in real life. If you’re unsure about your right to sue for wrongful death, it’s safest to check with a lawyer.
The Process for Addressing a Wrongful Death Is Different Every Time
Establishing your right to a wrongful death settlement, and the appropriate size of that settlement, is a many-stepped process. At its core, you and your lawyer will need to prove:
- That a specific person or organization behaved negligently.
- That your loved one’s death was a result of this negligence.
- That you are the legal next of kin.
- That your specific monetary demands are logical and not arbitrary.
Obviously, no amount of money can replace your loved one, so any wrongful death settlement will be inherently imperfect. Still, there does have to be some rationale for the total. A lawyer can help you arrive at a number, starting from the estimated income the deceased would have made over the course of their remaining lifespan, plus final medical and funerary expenses. If applicable, you can also sue for the suffering your loved one experienced before death as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
What form these steps take, and which ones require the most attention, varies immensely from case to case. One wrongful death suit in Sandy Springs might hinge upon getting testimony from a Northside Hospital doctor, to establish that the neglect a victim experienced in a local care center was definitely the cause of death. Another might come down to an argument over whether the victim was really about to get a promotion at IBM or not, altering their expected lifetime earning power.
Sometimes the most crucial step is simply naming the right defendant, before the case even begins. Misplacing the blame, or choosing someone who is legally protected from liability in some way, can doom an otherwise solid wrongful death case.
Workplace accidents are one of the most common wrongful death scenarios where the obvious defendant is probably not the right one. Workers’ comp law blocks almost all lawsuits regarding employee injuries and deaths. However, there may be other negligent parties, besides the employer, who are fair game for a workplace wrongful death suit. For example, if your loved one was provided with faulty safety gear at work, you could sue the company that manufactured the gear and sold it to your loved one’s employer.
The sheer volume of factors in play in any wrongful death case makes it especially important to choose a lawyer with extensive wrongful death experience, as well as experience in any overlapping areas of law relevant to your loved one’s death.