Assessing Damages In A Wrongful Death Case


We have written before about the unique provisions of Georgia law in the wrongful death context. If, due to the negligence of a third party, an innocent person is killed, the offending party is liable in damages for compensation for the “full value of the decedent.” The full value of the life of the decedent is comprised of both economic and non-economic components. Anytime someone is killed, they can no longer earn and labor and therefore all of the money they may have earned over the remaining portion of their working life has been taken from them. In addition, their one life to live has been taken from them and the non-economic intangible value of life itself, therefore, must be determined. Under Georgia law, both determinations are made from the perspective of the decedent, not from the perspective of the decedent’s family or surviving relatives.

The measure of damages for a wrongful death case in Georgia is, again, the “enlightened conscience” of fair and impartial jurors seeking to do justice in a particular case. By analyzing all the available evidence to determine both the economic and non-economic damages sustained in a particular case, jurors are faced with the task of determining the full value of the life of the decedent based on what the decedent lost at the time of his or her death. This can be a daunting task and therefore counsel must assist the jury in analyzing the various components of the decedent’s life, including their work history, their relationship with family members, the state of health, their age and other demographic factors. The younger the victim, the longer the life expectancy and therefore the greater the loss. While those who are negligently killed in the latter part of their lives also lose the balance of what the future held for them, the loss presumably would be less than a younger person because of the age difference. In either circumstance, however, the calculation to be made by the jury is to provide fair and reasonable compensation for the loss of life.

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About Richard Hendrix

Richard W. Hendrix is a former state and federal prosecutor who has more than 30 years of experience in complex civil and criminal litigation. He has also served as a mediator in Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR).

Since joining Finch McCranie in 1985, Mr. Hendrix has built an extensive litigation practice focusing on wrongful death and serious personal injury cases as well as federal white collar criminal defense cases. He has successfully represented injured parties in personal injury cases throughout the state of Georgia. Mr. Hendrix has also effectively defended business and individuals, including a former US Congressman, against indictments and grand jury investigations. In 2006 and 2008-2012, he was selected to Georgia Super Lawyers.

He is admitted to practice in Georgia and South Carolina. Mr. Hendrix is licensed to appear before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and the District of South Carolina as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Fifth Circuit, and Eleventh Circuit.

From 1979-1985, Mr. Hendrix served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. He was also Associate Independent Counsel for the investigation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1991-1992.

Mr. Hendrix graduated with cum laude honors from Davidson College and he received his law degree from Emory University. Since 1992, Mr. Hendrix has been an Adjunct Professor of Litigation at Georgia State University College of Law. He is also a Master of the Bench with the Lamar American Inn of Court where he works to enhance the professional, ethics and skills of the legal community.

Mr. Hendrix has also authored numerous articles including: “High Speed Police Chases and Injured Innocent By-Standers,” The Verdict (Summer, 2015) “Tolling the Statute of Limitations in Tort Cases for Victims of a Crime,” The Verdict (Fall, 2007); “A Refresher On the Federal Tort Claims Act,” The Verdict (Winter, 1999); “Rule 16 and the Jencks Act: A Need for Legal Reform,” Calendar Call (Winter, 1996); “Corporate Criminal Liability: The Need for Effective Compliance Programs,” South Carolina Lawyer (March/April, 1993); “Crossing State Lines in Wrongful Death Actions: Traps for the Unwary,” The Verdict (Fall, 1990); and “White Collar Crime: New Tools for Prosecution,” The Atlanta Lawyer (Summer, 1986)