Wrongful death lawsuits are usually a way for the immediate family members of a deceased person to seek compensation for the death of that person when it was caused by the negligence of another. In some cases, filing the lawsuit is a way to get justice and make the person who caused the death answer for his or her actions. Unfortunately, in some cases, even when there is a link between a person’s actions and another’s death, a wrongful death lawsuit may not succeed.
One such situation is with cases involving suicide. People who are depressed or experiencing difficult personal issues may sometimes consider suicide. Unfortunately, there are also people who engage in conduct that can push a person over the edge and make him or her take his or her own life. This is more common with teenagers, who are easily influenced by others. However, even an adult can be pushed to the edge by the careless or calculated words or actions of another.
The question often becomes, when can a person be held responsible for causing the death of another person, if the death is a result of a suicide? Wrongful death claims are like other personal injury cases in that the person filing the claim is required to prove several things in order for the case to succeed. These are that there was a duty owed by the defendant in the lawsuit, that the defendant breached the duty, and that the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injury suffered. Proximate case generally requires that the plaintiff show that there is a direct link between the deceased’s suicide and the conduct of the person who pushed the deceased to take his or her life.
This is where the problem comes in with suicide cases, and the filing of a wrongful death claim in Georgia. Under Georgia law, a person’s act in taking his or her own life is an intervening cause that breaks the chain of causation. The break in the chain of causation means a plaintiff cannot prove proximate cause. Therefore, even if a defendant is involved in active harassment of another, including encouraging the other person to take his or her life, if the person takes his or her life, it is seen as an independent personal choice.
In some situations, some family members, especially parents of children who commit suicide, choose to file the wrongful death lawsuits in order to cause greater societal change. For example, parents may file a lawsuit against a school district to force a change of policy in how bullying cases are handled. Even if the parents are ultimately unsuccessful in the wrongful death lawsuit, they may be able to enact positive changes for other children at risk. In other cases, exploring the possibility of criminal charges against the bully who leads another person to commit suicide may be the best approach to get some measure of justice.
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