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The Georgia wrongful death statute provides for the recovery of the full value of the life of the decedent, Ga. Code Ann. §§ 51-4-2, -3, and -5(a), which is defined as the full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived. Ga. Code Ann. § 51-4-1(1). The "full value of life" is comprised of two categories of damages: (1) those items having a proven monetary value, such as lost potential lifetime earnings, income, or services, reduced to present cash value or (2) lost intangible items whose value cannot be precisely quantified, such as a parent's society, advice, example, and counsel as determined by the enlightened conscience of the jury.
On November 10, 1992, Ashley Latrise Scott ("Ashley"), Debra Reese Gordon ("Debra") and her unborn child, General Gordon ("General"), were traveling in Debra's automobile through an intersection in downtown Savannah, Georgia, when a United States Postal Service ("USPS") truck wrongfully entered the intersection and struck Debra's automobile. The force of the collision pushed the automobile head-on into another truck that was sitting at the intersection. Ashley, Debra and General died almost immediately after the collision. The estate administrators filed suit against defendant United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2671 et seq. United States admitted liability in the consolidated cases and a bench trial was held on the issue of damages. The estate administrators sought damages under the wrongful death statute, Ga. Code Ann. §§ 51-4-1 through 51-4-5, and for pain and suffering.
Were the decedents' personal and necessary expenses considered in assessing the full value of the decedent's life?
The court found that under the wrongful death statute, the decedents' personal and necessary expenses were not considered in assessing the full value of the decedent's life, including the decedents' personal income taxes. The court considered the economic losses associated with the decedents' deaths, as well as non-economic, intangible losses the court deemed relevant in determining the full value of their lives. The court considered the educational background and earnings history of the deceased woman to determine a wrongful death award, but declined to award for pain and suffering because she died within minutes of the collision. Without any hard evidence of the full value of the lives of the child or unborn child, the court made monetary awards for plaintiffs.