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Athens GA Wrongful Death Attorney

Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyers in Athens, Georgia

athens wrongful death lawyersOur Athens GA wrongful death attorneys have been handling these cases for 35 years. If you’ve lost a loved one and are searching for answers, here are some essential things you need to know.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

A strict set of laws determines who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Married Decedent: The spouse chooses the lawyer, even though proceeds must be shared with any children.
  • Unmarried Decedent with Children: The other parent can bring the case on the child’s behalf.
  • No Children: The parents of the decedent control the case.
  • None of These Situations Apply: Legal action can only be taken once a court appoints a statutory wrongful death representative.

Acting Promptly Yet Cautiously

While grieving, it’s crucial to hire an attorney promptly because evidence can disappear, and other claimants may reduce available insurance coverage.

Types of Evidence That Can Disappear:

  • Tire skid and yaw marks
  • 911 witness phone call records (often gone after a few weeks)
  • Car and truck computer records
  • Eyewitnesses (who can be influenced by insurance adjusters)

In the Athens area, a wrongful death lawyer will assess the circumstances and enlist a collision reconstructionist to examine the scene and collect photographic evidence. Attorneys specializing in wrongful death cases often send letters to the responsible driver and their insurance providers, warning them against tampering with or destroying evidence.

Speed is Critical When Multiple People are Involved

If multiple people are injured or killed in an accident, swift action is crucial. For example, in a case involving a UGA student killed in 2010, we quickly sent demands to insurance companies, beating other claims and ensuring coverage for our clients. Delayed action could have resulted in the family losing out on available insurance.

Choosing the Right Attorney

Avoid hiring lawyers based on TV ads. It’s important to:

  1. Interview Multiple Attorneys: Meet at least two or three in person.
  2. Ask About Experience: Ensure they have filed and litigated wrongful death cases successfully.
  3. Check Current Cases: Know what phase they are in.
  4. Request Client References: Speak with their clients for firsthand experiences.

Understanding Wrongful Death Laws in Georgia

Before meeting with a lawyer, familiarize yourself with the basics of wrongful death laws. For detailed information, visit our main firm page.

Recent Case Law Developments

Wrongful Death Car and Bus Accident

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reviewed a trial court’s decision regarding the tragic death of a young student who was hit by a car while boarding a school bus. The case, Tift County School District v. Martinez, examined potential negligence by the school bus driver and the school district.

Case Background

In May 2010, the student was waiting for the school bus at the assigned stop. When the bus arrived, he started crossing the street to get on. Unfortunately, a vehicle did not stop for the bus signals and struck him. The speed limit on the road was 55 mph, and heavy fog made visibility poor that morning.

Legal Proceedings

The student’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the bus driver and the school district, claiming negligence. After the discovery phase, the bus driver requested summary judgment, citing official immunity. Both parties agreed the driver was entitled to immunity but waived it to the extent that the school district’s insurance would cover the damages. The court accepted this agreement and granted summary judgment.

However, the defendants later argued that the waiver of immunity was invalid without a statutory basis. The trial court denied their second motion for summary judgment, leading to an appeal. The defendants questioned whether the school board’s insurance coverage effectively waived sovereign immunity and whether the stipulation itself could waive immunity.

Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals focused on the first issue. According to O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51, government entities can purchase insurance to cover liabilities from motor vehicle operations, waiving governmental immunity to the extent of the insurance. Although another statute exempts local school boards from being considered local government entities, the court found this exemption did not apply to the waiver provision under O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51. Thus, there was a statutory waiver of sovereign immunity, making the second issue irrelevant.

Wrongful Death Case Involving Schools Dismissed by Court

In a recent Georgia Supreme Court case, the parents of a high school student filed a wrongful death lawsuit against their child’s teacher following the student’s death. The incident occurred in 2008 when the teacher left her classroom, which shared an entrance with another classroom. She asked the other teacher to listen for her class, even though he couldn’t see into the room from his seat. While she was gone, the student and another child started playing around, and the other student accidentally fell on him. The student collapsed and later died at the hospital from blood loss due to a broken bone cutting a major blood vessel.

After the incident, the principal questioned the teacher and others to understand what happened. The teacher initially lied, claiming she was present in the classroom the whole time. An independent investigation later revealed that she had left the room, supposedly to use the restroom, though her explanations varied.

The school’s handbook stated that students should never be left unsupervised. The principal interpreted this as requiring teachers to stay close to students but acknowledged situations where leaving the class for a brief period might be necessary. He also mentioned that a teacher could supervise without direct sight of the students, as long as they could hear what was happening.

The parents sued the teacher and others for wrongful death, alleging negligent supervision. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the teacher, finding her actions were discretionary and protected by official immunity.

The appellate court upheld this decision, citing established precedents that classify classroom management decisions as discretionary, warranting official immunity for teachers. The parents appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, questioning the appellate court’s ruling on official immunity.

The Supreme Court explained that public employees can be sued for negligent performance or nonperformance of ministerial duties or when they act with actual malice. However, discretionary acts only lead to liability if performed with malice or intent. The determination of whether an action is discretionary or ministerial is made on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the court found that the school’s policy allowed teachers to use personal judgment in deciding whether to leave a classroom. This granted meaningful discretion, making the teacher’s actions discretionary.

Since there was no evidence of malice, the teacher was entitled to official immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed the granting of summary judgment in favor of the teacher.

Contact an Athens GA Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have questions or need assistance, our experienced Athens wrongful death attorneys at Christopher Simon are available to listen and provide guidance. Contact us for a free consultation.


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Athens, GA 30601
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visit us 345 W Hancock Ave
Athens, GA 30601