Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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We previously discussed a terrible wrongful death case, Walden v. Chrysler Group, LLC, in which a 4-year-old Georgia child died after his aunt’s Jeep Grand Cherokee exploded in a rear-end collision. The impact caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted fuel tank to explode, setting the child on fire. Following a trial, a jury held the Jeep’s manufacturer, Chrysler, 99% responsible for the child’s death and awarded the family $150 million in damages. Although the judge reduced that award to $40 million, Chrysler still appealed.

Is a CEO’s Salary Relevant to a Wrongful Death Claim Against his Company?

The Georgia Supreme Court recently affirmed the modified verdict after reviewing and rejecting Chrysler’s challenge to some of the evidence presented at trial. Specifically, Chrysler argued that it was unduly prejudiced by the plaintiff’s introduction of evidence related to the salary of the company’s chief executive officer.

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Everyone recognizes that teachers have a difficult job. We also trust teachers with the education and well-being of our children. So, when the worst happens and a child dies while in a teacher’s custody, grieving parents will understandably seek accountability and justice through the courts.

Barnett v. Caldwell

Unfortunately, when it comes to teachers employed by public schools, the legal system makes such accountability difficult. Although the Georgia Constitution states that a state employee may be personally liable for “negligent failure to perform” a “ministerial” function, they are generally immune from lawsuits arising from discretionary acts. In non-legal terms, if the law mandates a state employee do something, then he or she can be sued for negligently failing to do so. If the employee has discretion to do something, however, then he or she cannot be sued if that decision caused injury to a third party, unless the victim can prove that the employee acted with “actual malice” or “actual intent to cause injury.”

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Georgia’s mental health system has come under increasing public and regulatory scrutiny in recent years. Too many people suffering from serious mental illness do not receive adequate treatment. While that is tragic in and of itself, the system’s failures are compounded when these untreated patients injure or even kill innocent third parties.

Curles v. Psychiatric Solutions, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered a mental health care facility’s potential civil liability in one such case. A woman with a long history of “psychotic breaks” was committed to a private psychiatric facility on three separate occasions. Approximately two weeks after the facility discharged her for the third time, the woman killed her grandmother and another man.

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In most cases, if you lose a spouse or parent due to third-party negligence, you can bring a wrongful death lawsuit under Georgia law to recover a wide range of damages, including the deceased relative’s lost wages, medical and burial expenses, as well as non-economic damages for their pain and suffering and your own loss of companionship.

If your loved one died as the result of a workplace accident, your legal options may be limited. Workers’ compensation provides the “exclusive” remedy for all on-the-job injuries, including those that are fatal. Since workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system, you do not need to prove the employer was negligent; however, your damages would be limited to those death benefits mandated by the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act (GWCA).

Mangham v. Westin Hotel Management, LP

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Each year more than 300 people die on Georgia roadways in drunk driving accidents. While prosecutors can file criminal charges against the drunk driver, that does not compensate victims and their families for their losses. Unfortunately, in many cases the drunk driver either has no insurance or lacks sufficient coverage to fully compensate the victims.

This is where uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage can come into play. Under Georgia law, all auto insurance providers must offer UM/UIM coverage as part of their standard policies. The customer has the option to decline such coverage, but must do so in writing. While you are free to purchase any amount of UM/UIM insurance that an insurer offers, state law sets minimum coverage at $25,000 for bodily injury per person (or $50,000 per accident). In many cases, it is a good idea to purchase significantly more coverage, as the damages from an accident can easily exceed $50,000, especially if there is serious injury or death.

Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company v. Musgrove

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people die every day in the United States due to “unintentional drowning.” Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are especially at risk. Among this age group, drowning is the leading cause of death aside from congenital birth defects.

Frazier v. Godley Park Homeowners Association, Inc.

Most child drowning deaths occur in residential swimming pools. In some cases, the pool owner’s negligence may be the proximate cause of the child’s death. You should not assume that just because a child suffers a fatal or non-fatal drowning, the owner is automatically liable. To the contrary, under Georgia law, a swimming pool owner “is not an insurer of its safety.”

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Teenage suicide is a serious public health problem in Georgia. According to the Jason Foundation, a leading suicide prevention organization, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18.” Suicide kills more teenagers every year than cancer, heart disease, and birth defects combined.

City of Richmond Hill v. Maia

When a parent loses a child to suicide, he or she understandably wants to know why it happened. In some cases, the suicide may have been provoked by the reckless or negligent act of a third party. The Supreme Court of Georgia recently clarified the circumstances where such third parties may be liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a deceased child.

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In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal praised the work of Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS), whose employees are charged with protecting abused and neglected children. The governor singled out a case manager in Telfair County who saved an infant’s life. He also proposed a 19% wage increase for case managers throughout Georgia, noting that the state pays its child welfare workers less than every other state in the southeast aside from Louisiana.

Cowart v. Georgia Department of Human Services

Despite the governor’s support, not everyone is satisfied with the the work of the state’s case managers. In fact, the Department of Human Services, which oversees the DFCS, is currently facing a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of a child who died, allegedly after a case worker failed to follow up on serious abuse allegations. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial judge’s decision dismissing the case, citing the need for additional evidence on a key legal issue.

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Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers are responsible for patients who require ongoing medical care. When these facilities fail to follow proper protocols, the results can be fatal. Under Georgia law, any health care provider may be liable for wrongful death if there is a breach of duty that is the “proximate cause” of the patient’s demise.

Fields v. Taylor

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reinstated a wrongful death claim against a geriatrics doctor in Dublin. The lawsuit was brought by the daughter of a woman who died six years ago while under the defendant’s care at a rehabilitation center. The deceased had been admitted to the center temporarily while the daughter, her mother’s caregiver, was unavailable.

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Many Georgia car accidents are the result of a defect in the vehicle itself. Georgia product liability law recognizes three types of defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. The second group, design defects, includes any product that is not “reasonably suited to the use intended.” This means, for instance, that a product manufacturer may be held liable for damages if it selected an inappropriate or unsafe design.

Andrews v. Autoliv Japan, Ltd.

A design defect claim will only succeed if the plaintiff can prove the defendant actively participated in the design. Not every party who may have contributed some part of a vehicle is considered responsible for its design. A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta offers a helpful illustration.