Wrongful Death Attorneys in Savannah
Here at Christopher Simon Attorney at Law, we have a broad range of experience handling wrongful death cases in Georgia—between 2009 and 2014, for example, we represented 27 different clients in wrongful death cases.
After losing someone close, it can be difficult to sift through all of the legal jargon surrounding wrongful death cases. To help you make the best decisions for your unique situation, here is some important basic information about wrongful death laws in our state.Hire a Lawyer as Soon as Possible
While it is understandably difficult to think about legal matters when you are grieving, you really need to hire a lawyer as soon as you can, especially if your case involves time-sensitive evidence, limited insurance policies, or more than one injured person. Keep in mind, for example, that skid marks can be erased after just one heavy rain shower.
A lawyer can help you in many different ways, including sending collision experts to the scene of the accident to collect, analyze, and take photographs of important evidence. At our firm, we also quickly send a letter to any at-fault parties reminding them not to allow any pieces of evidence to go “missing”, which allows us to hold them accountable if they try to do anything dishonest.
You also want to hire a lawyer quickly if more than one person was hurt in the accident. Wrongful death cases can be quite complicated, which is all the more reason to secure the help of a lawyer as soon as you can.
In 2010, for example, a college student died in a DUI accident that involved three different insurance policies, four different injuries, and two separate wrongful death claims. How? Unfortunately, in this case two different drunk drivers crashed into each other, causing them to swerve erratically and kill the student.
Although this was clearly a terrible incident, a close relative of the deceased student decided to hire our firm within just one week of the accident. Wasting no time, we immediately contacted the insurance companies involved, and our swift response meant that we were the first claimants to file with the insurance company. You may be surprised to learn that insurance companies in Georgia can decide whom to pay in wrongful death cases—they are not obligated to be “fair” to the different parties involved. Because of this, acting quickly like we did can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars more in damages for our clients.
However, while you definitely want to act quickly, you also need to take enough time to make sure you have found the right lawyer to represent you.
In order to make the right choice, we recommend interviewing at least 3 different lawyers in person before deciding whom to hire. During these interviews, you should always ask the lawyer directly if he or she has experience filing and litigating wrongful death claims. Ask what the results of these cases were, and follow up by inquiring about the lawyer’s current wrongful death cases in progress. It is also a good idea to ask to talk with the lawyer’s clients who have gone through your experience. Why be so careful? Juries sometimes award huge amounts of money in wrongful death cases, and you want make sure that your lawyer is experienced and qualified, not simply interested in the money.
Although it is a lawyer’s job to lead a case and provide expert legal advice, you still need to understand the basic tenets of Georgia wrongful death law before moving forward with any particular lawyer. In our state, there are two possible claims that you can file—“statutory wrongful death” claims that can be brought forth by family members, and claims of the estate of the deceased.
Under statutory wrongful death law, family members can receive an award based on the value of the life of the decedent. The particular order of family members has been decided by law, such that the deceased person’s spouse is entitled to receive the award first. Second in line are any children of the deceased, and if there are children as well as a spouse, then the spouse must share the award with the children, although he or she still officially holds the claim. O.C.G.A. §51-4-2 If the deceased has not left behind a spouse or children, then the parents receive the proceeds of the claim. O.C.G.A. §19-7-1.
However, if there are no parents living, then the court may appoint someone to file a claim on behalf of the deceased person’s “next of kin.” Only at this point would any siblings, etc. be able to claim the award, according to O.C.G.A. §51-4-5.
In attempting to pin down the “value of life” in a wrongful death case, a person’s economic productivity and personal life are handled differently. Georgia is a rare state in terms of value of life laws, because our state allows juries to decide for themselves the value of the deceased person’s life. This is another reason why you need a competent, experienced lawyer—you need someone who can truly communicate to a jury the little things that made a person’s life irreplaceable.
Recently, for example, Mr. Simon spent significant time and effort gathering more than 200 pictures of a deceased person’s life, from early childhood to his 50s, when the accident occurred. So that he would be prepared to paint a clear picture for the jury, Mr. Simon also spent days looking through home videos and spending time with the person’s family—by the time he got to the courtroom, he was able to provide the jury with a true sense of just how tragic the loss of life was. No matter how precious the life of your loved one is to you, a jury will only understand your perspective if you have a lawyer who can communicate the many things that made the too-short life meaningful.Secondly, you need to consider your wrongful death case’s estate claim
This claim covers things like medical bills, funeral expenses, and general pain and suffering caused by the accident. If there is evidence that the deceased person suffered between the accident itself and actually passing away, this can be taken into account. Although it may be difficult to think about, if the person knew that death was imminent and was forced to feel it approaching, your lawyer should take care to make sure these intangible parts of the case are fully considered.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one and have any questions about what you have read here, please call our firm to explore your options. Mr. Simon’s significant experience handling all varieties of injury cases can help you navigate this difficult time.