When a close family member is killed due to the negligence of another, often times you can file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages for the value of the person’s life. In Georgia, these damages are referred to as the “full value of life.”
Unlike many states, Georgia law does not allow you to recover damages for your own losses suffered as a result of the death of your loved one (such as loss of consortium, companionship and advice of the deceased). However, unlike other states, Georgia does allow you to recover the full value of life without placing on caps on the amount of money that can be awarded. This amount will be calculated based on both the economic or tangible aspects of the deceased’s life as well as the noneconomic or intangible aspects.
Economic Value of Life
The economic or tangible aspects of measuring the full value of life predominantly include the current value of future earnings that the decedent would have made had they lived. This economic value does not require any deductions for personal expenses (bills) or taxes.
When calculating the economic value of life, the jury is allowed to consider all relevant facts and circumstances, including the deceased’s age, physical health and strength, the labor and/or work that they performed, value of the work performed, income, and any other factor or circumstance pertinent to the value of life.
When placing a number on total future earnings of the deceased, jurors typically consider a number of factors including the decedent’s age at death, likelihood of retirement, health, loss of employment, work history (whether they often abstained from work), reduction in wages, and any other factor which could realistically reduce an individual’s lifetime gross earnings.
Non-Economic Value of Life
Unlike the economic components of the full value of life, the non-economic or intangible aspects are not prone to any formula nor do they depend on specific factors. Rather, the jury is instructed to determine the non-economic value of life upon what the deceased’s life was worth to them. In order to do this, jurors must use their experience and knowledge of human affairs in weighing the variety of facts and circumstances that affected the deceased’s subjective value of their own life. The factors and circumstances may include the decedent’s family and living situation, personal relationships, hobbies, passion for church and leisure activities, etc.
So how is the non-economic value of life presented to the jury? Often times, family members (and even friends) will give testimony specific to their relationship with the deceased, as well as general testimony about the deceased’s enjoyment of life. In addition, pictures of the decedent enjoying their favorite hobbies, participating in religious services or ceremonies and spending time with family can be used to illustrate their subjective value of life. Sometimes, even physical objects such as paintings, drawings or writings of the decedent can be used to demonstrate the intangible value of the decedent’s life.
When measuring both the economic and non-economic values of life, the jury must keep in mind the life expectancy of the decedent. Typically, a person who dies at the age of 20 is going to have a greater value of life than an 80 year old because they would have been expected to live longer. The Georgia Evidence Code actually contains two life expectancy tables which can be used to make these calculations. However, with expert witness testimony or the proper evidentiary foundation, other life expectancy tables may be used.
Finally, once the jury has arrived at an amount for both the economic and non-economic value of the decedent’s life, these totals are added together to arrive at a grand total of the full value of the decedent’s life.
If a loved one has been killed due to the negligence of another, you need a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can assess your case to determine if you have a valid wrongful death claim and who can present your case to get you the compensation you deserve. The highly qualified attorneys at Murphy & Garner, LLC have decades of experience in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Call one of the dedicated personal injury lawyers at Murphy & Garner, LLC today for a free consultation at 678-563-1584.