Nothing about dealing with the untimely death of a loved one is easy. While pursuing a successful wrongful death claim can help ease the burdens of moving on, this itself is a complicated, confusing and potentially lengthy process. With that said, asserting your family’s legal rights is extremely important; and, for those who are eligible to file a claim, it is important to get started as soon as possible.
Who can file a wrongful death claim in Georgia? Who is eligible to receive compensation once a family member files? How does a wrongful death settlement get divided in Georgia? Keep reading to find out what you need to know:
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia?
Georgia’s wrongful death law is somewhat unique in that it establishes an order of priority for who can (and must) file a claim. The survivor with the highest priority level is responsible for filing a claim, and no one else is eligible to do so. In order of priority, the family members who can file a wrongful death claim in Georgia are:
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s child or children
- The deceased’s parent or parents
- The administrator of the deceased’s estate (who may or may not be a family member)
These are the only options. Siblings, grandparents, unmarried domestic partners and other family members are excluded from filing a wrongful death claim in Georgia (unless they are serving as the deceased’s administrator, in which case they will file a claim on behalf of the estate).
But, when an eligible family member files a claim and the claim is successful, that individual isn’t necessarily the only one who will receive financial compensation. As we discuss in greater detail below, a wrongful death settlement may be divided amongst the deceased’s spouse, children, grandchildren, and potentially other family members as well.
- What About Adopted Children? In Georgia, adopted children (and adoptive parents) have the same legal rights as natural children (and natural parents). So, if an adopted child loses a parent, the child is eligible to file a wrongful death claim (subject to the priority list above). Likewise, if an adoptive parent loses an adopted son or daughter, the adoptive parent has the right to file a claim under Georgia law.
- What About Foster Children? A foster child who has not been adopted is not considered a legal child of his or her foster parents for purposes of filing a wrongful death claim. This means that foster parents also cannot file a wrongful death claim for the loss of a foster child.
- What About Stepchildren? The rules regarding stepchildren are the same as those for foster children. Without a formal adoption, neither the stepchild nor the stepparent can pursue a claim under Georgia’s wrongful death law.
- What About Children Born Out of Wedlock? When a child is born out of wedlock, the legal relationship between mother and child is established automatically. However, the father must establish paternity in order for a legal relationship to exist between the father and the child.
- What About Half Relatives? In Georgia, half relatives have the same legal rights as whole relatives.
How is a Wrongful Death Settlement Divided?
In Georgia, a wrongful death settlement (or verdict) must be divided based on the number of eligible survivors and their respective relationships to the deceased. This can get complicated, but we will illustrate the basic concepts with some of the most common scenarios:
- Spouse and No Children – The spouse receives 100 percent of the settlement or verdict.
- Spouse and One Child – The spouse and child each receive half.
- Spouse and Two Children – The spouse receives a third and each child receives a third.
- Spouse and Three or More Children – The spouse receives a third and the children equally split the remaining two-thirds.
- No Spouse and One or More Children – Each child receives an equal share.
If a child who would be entitled to a share of a wrongful death settlement has died, then his or her children (the deceased’s grandchildren) would divide the child’s share equally. If the deceased has no surviving spouse or children, then the deceased parents receive the full amount of the settlement or verdict. If the deceased’s parents have also died, then the deceased’s siblings are next in line.
Speak with a Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyer in Confidence
As you can see, there are many important considerations when filing a wrongful death claim in Georgia. But, the most important thing you need to know is that a lawyer can help, and you can speak with a lawyer at no out-of-pocket cost. To schedule a free initial consultation at Gilormo Injury Law, please call 770-343-7101 or tell us how you would like to be contacted online today. We have offices in Atlanta, Alpharetta and Cumming.