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The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Lawsuits

Two types of lawsuits can be brought when one person’s negligence, recklessness or criminal behavior causes the death of another. One is a wrongful death case, by which the decedent’s family seeks compensation for their own losses on account of the death. The other is a survival action, which aims at recovering damages suffered by the decedent prior to death. In Georgia, these cases are governed by separate statutes.

A wrongful death lawsuit may be brought by the surviving spouse or, if the decedent was not married at the time of death, by his or her children. Regardless of who brings the lawsuit, damages may be recovered in the amount of “the full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.” This consists of compensation for the following:

  1. Economic losses — These are the wages and other monetary benefits that the decedent would likely have received over his or her expected natural lifetime.
  2. Noneconomic losses — These include the family’s loss of companionship, the surviving spouse’s loss of consortium and other losses that a jury finds have resulted from the death.

If the plaintiff wins a wrongful death case, the award goes directly to the plaintiff and does not pass through the decedent’s estate. If there are multiple plaintiffs, the award is equally divided.

A survival action consists of any legal claim that the decedent could have brought over the injuries inflicted if he or she had not died. In other words, the cause of action survives the victim’s death. The damages available in a survival action include pain and suffering endured by the decedent, medical expenses related to the accident or crime that caused death, and funeral and burial expenses. The lawsuit is brought by the decedent’s personal representative, who may be an executor or administrator of their estate. If damages are awarded, the proceeds pass to the estate and then to the estate beneficiaries.

Wrongful death and survival actions share a common statute of limitations in Georgia. Either case must be brought no later than two years after the action that caused the death. An investigation into the circumstances of the death and the identity of persons responsible should be conducted as soon as possible after the death. An experienced Georgia attorney can help you conduct such an investigation and identify what legal claims exist.

If your loved one died and you suspect that someone else’s negligent, reckless or criminal action caused the death, contact the Reddy Law Firm, P.C. today. We offer free initial client consultations at our office in Suwanee. Call us at 678-629-3246 or contact us online to schedule your consultation.

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