Deadly accidents of any kind that kill a loved one have traumatic and devastating effects on those left behind—especially if the accident were preventable. Whether the accident was traffic-related, a dog attack, or medical malpractice, as the family member, you can hold the responsible, negligent party accountable for your loved one’s demise by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Read on and learn the ins and outs of wrongful death lawsuit compensation distribution in Georgia.
Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
If someone purposely or negligently caused your loved one’s death, the family or an estate representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Once the family wins the case, the distribution of compensation begins, but how the distribution materializes depends on the amount, the circumstances of the suit, and the defendant’s ability to pay.
Georgia has two types of wrongful death lawsuits:
- Estate claims
- Full Value of Life claims
Estate claims are where the decedent’s estate demands recovery for medical expenses related to the death-causing injuries, funeral and burial expenses, and pre-death pain and suffering.
Full value of life claims, determined by a jury, are filed by the surviving spouse and children to cover such things as loss of companionship, loss of parental support, etc. The distribution for these claims is different than estate claims. The spouse cannot receive any less than one-third of the compensation, with the rest split between the surviving children.
A full value of life claim measures the person’s life that the spouse and children lost and breaks down in two ways: economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages include quantifiable expenses such as the income the deceased would have made during their working years or the amount they would have contributed to the family (health insurance, dental insurance, etc.)
- Non-economic damages include losses with no tangible value but consist of loss of consortium, companionship, etc.
Distribution of Wrongful Death Lawsuit Compensation
While compensation does not always go to the family of the deceased or the estate’s beneficiaries, the court uses four factors to decide how to distribute payment:
- Age of the Beneficiaries: Any beneficiary under the age of eighteen is ineligible to receive compensation. So, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to set up a trust. When the beneficiaries become adults, their attorneys will decide the fair value per party.
- Beneficiary’s Legal Capacity: While the beneficiary may be over the age of eighteen, they may not have the ability to manage the compensation due to a permanent disability or other condition(s) (i.e., dementia). In an instance like this, the beneficiary’s compensation would go into a trust, managed like a child’s compensation.
- The Relationship: The deceased’s spouse will receive more than the surviving children in a wrongful death case but cannot receive less than one third per the statute.
- Balances Owed: Liens against the estate must be satisfied before the distribution of compensation.
Taxes and Creditors After Compensation Distribution
While civil lawsuits are not always tax-free, civil cases with punitive and compensatory damages are not taxable by the IRS. However, any distributed compensation that is part of an estate, such as compensation for lost wages and income, are subject to probate. Suppose these amounts surpass the estate tax’s minimum threshold. In that case, the payment will be subject to that tax first and any applicable federal or state government tax after that before distribution.
Any income compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit will apply to the estate’s assets if it has multiple creditors. Subject to creditors’ claims in probate court, the law requires that the deceased’s assets satisfy the estate’s creditors before the remainder can become eligible for liquidation and distribution.
Compensation Payment Methods
In Georgia, you and your attorney will decide between two ways in which you want your compensation paid: a settlement agreement or a jury award.
If your goal is to have a quick settlement where insurance companies agree to pay you a specific amount of money, a settlement agreement may be the way to go. But, if your goal is to have a jury trial where your attorney fights your case in court, and a jury issues a decision on the value of your case, then a jury award may be just the ticket.
Have you recently endured the death of someone you knew and loved? Do you want to file a wrongful death lawsuit but do not know where to start? Then the attorneys at the Law Office of John B. Jackson can help you. Located in Atlanta, Carrollton, Douglasville, and Lawrenceville, the lawyers at the Law Office of John B. Jackson will offer you a free consultation concerning your case. Why wait? Contact them today!