Tag: pain and suffering

Wrongful Death in Georgia – Who Makes the Claim

If your loved one has recently passed, we offer our sincere condolences. Losing a loved one is tragic, but at some point, the living must go on living. This means educating yourself regarding your family’s legal rights in order to make a full recovery on behalf of your loved one.

If your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence of another, who is entitled to make a claim? A claim may include include funeral expenses, medical expenses, pain and suffering before your loved one’s death, and the value of your loved one’s life that has been cut short?

To understand who can make a claim, we must first understand that Georgia law allows two different claims following a wrongful death: one is just referred to as a “wrongful death claim”, and the other is referred to as an “estate claim” or “survival claim”. The same person can bring both claims, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Wrongful Death Claim

Under Georgia law, this claim belongs to the loved one’s spouse and children. See OCGA § 51-4-2. If the loved one had no spouse or children during their life, the loved one’s parents are entitled to make the claim. See OCGA § 19-7-1. Finally, if no spouse, children, or parents are alive, the court can appoint an administrator or executor to make the claim. See OCGA § 51-4-5. Relatives such as a sibling, uncle, aunt, or grandparent have no right to prosecute the wrongful death case.

We will discuss this in further detail in another blog. However, generally, a wrongful death claim includes recovery for the value of your loved one’s life had he or she not died prematurely.

Estate/Survival Claim

The administrator of your loved one’s estate is the party entitled to make claims for funeral, medical, and other necessary expenses and any claim for pain and suffering before death. OCGA § 51-4-5.

If you have any questions about who can make a wrongful death claim on behalf of your loved one, please call us. We have provided a very general overview, but many details and complications come up when applying these rules in real life.

New Georgia Supreme Court Ruling Limits Appellate Review of Jury Verdicts

The Georgia Supreme Court decision in Rockdale Hospital, LLC v. Evans clears the way for trial courts, without much in the way of appellate review, to retry cases if the judge believes the jury got it wrong. S18G1189, S18G1190 (October 7, 2019).

The case at issue involved a medical malpractice lawsuit in which a jury awarded $1.1 million dollars to for the injured party’s past medical bills, but zero damages for future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and past and future pain and suffering. The injured party appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing that awarding zero damages for pain and suffering was “clearly inadequate” based on the $1.1 million award for past medical bills. The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed the verdict was “clearly inadequate,” and instructed the trial court to retry the case. The decision makes sense because it seems impossible to have $1 million of medical treatment without, at the same time, experiencing significant pain and suffering.  

The Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court (the highest court in Georgia). The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with the Georgia Court of Appeals and overruled its decision. The Georgia Supreme Court decided that whether or not to retry a case is almost always up to the trial judge, not the appellate courts. As long as the trial judge reasonably exercises his or her discretion, the appellate courts must go along with the judge’s decision regarding whether a jury verdict was clearly excessive or inadequate. The reasoning is that trial judges personally observed the witnesses and evidence, and are therefore in the best position to evaluate jury verdicts. The Court concluded that appellate courts have authority to set aside jury verdicts only when the verdict is so irrational as to be the obvious result of bias, corruption, or prejudice; this is characterized by the Court as an “extremely high” threshold. In other words, in most cases, appellate courts lack authority to review a trial court’s decision on this issue.

We’ll have to see how this ruling plays out, but in theory the decision cuts both ways because it potentially impacts both small and large verdicts. The takeaway is that in most instances, trial judges now get to decide if the verdict was too large or too small with little oversight from the appellate courts.