Wrongful Death on a College Campus

In August 2015, Christopher Starks, a 22-year-old Savannah State University student was shot and killed at the campus’s Student Union after a fight ensued between the student and the shooter. The assailant was not a known student at the University and it is unclear why he was on the campus. Recently, the victim’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents alleging that the campus did not do enough to combat the rising problem of violence and crime throughout the campus. Claims were made in which the family alleges the university negligently maintained, secured and patrolled the campus during the time in which their son was shot. Additionally, they claim that the university had knowledge of the prior shootings and violent behavior on campus from 2008 on, thus making it preventable. Lastly, they maintain that due to the university’s knowledge, there should have been appropriate security in and around the campus buildings to protect the students. As a result, the family is seeking a one million dollar damages settlement due to the loss of their son in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit and are calling for increased security on campus.


What Exactly Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim arises when the death of a person results from the wrongful, i.e. negligent, reckless, intentional or criminal, conduct of another party. This type of clam is brought under tort law and as a result would be filed in civil court, as opposed to criminal court. Many individuals are confused by the civil nature of this claim, thus, it should be noted that a separate case can also filed in criminal court making different claims, such as second degree murder. If both cases are filed, neither outcome in the case will affect the result of the case filed in the other court since the claims are based on different factors and principles. Generally, the main point of the wrongful death claim in civil court would be to receive monetary damages for the victim, had he or she suffered, and to compensate the loved ones for their loss, while a criminal case is to punish the wrongdoer.


Elements of Negligence

Wrongful death claims are based on many of the same principles personal injury claims are made on, except someone besides the victim is bringing the action on their behalf. To bring a wrongful death claim, the representatives for the deceased party must prove four factors to establish liability of the wrongdoer. First, it must be proven the party responsible for the injury had a duty of care they were to maintain. Everyone has basic duties of care they maintain while in public and some individuals, depending on the role they assume, have advanced duties of care. The duty of care most commonly assessed is that of the reasonable person standard, that is, what would a reasonable person in this situation have done, given the same circumstances. Second, the injured party must establish that the negligent party breached that duty of care. An example of breaching a duty of care would be a driver intentionally running a red light, since most reasonable people would stop at the red light due to the traffic laws set out by the state. Third, it must be established that due to the duty and the breach of that duty, the negligent actions of the injuring party actually and proximately caused the injury to the victim, this is, without the negligent action, the injury would not have occurred. Lastly, there must have been damages that resulted from the negligent actions.


When seeking damages, it is important that all factors are assessed in order to receive adequate compensation. In a wrongful death action, damages can be claimed in two ways: first, the representatives of the state can bring a claim on behalf of the victim for the full value of their life. In Georgia, the interested parties who are legally entitled to bring suit on behalf of the victim include the surviving spouse, children, parent, or if there is no other person entitled, the administrator or executor of the deceased may bring the claim and hold any damages recovered for the next of kin. To recover for the full value of life, the entitled party will seek monetary damages for lost wages and benefits that the victim may have earned over the course of his life and career, as well as damages for loss of care and companionship that the victim’s loved ones will now face without the victim. The other portion of damages that may be sought are those damages meant to compensate the estate for the death. These damages include medical expenses related to the injury suffered, pain and suffering victim faced between his injury and eventual death, as well as funeral expenses that the estate paid.


Principles of Negligence as Applied to Savannah State University Case

In the case discussed above of the 22-year-old Savannah State University student who was shot on campus, the family maintains the University owed their son a duty as he was an invitee on the campus and that the university failed to, or breached, their duty by permitting their son’s shooter to be on the campus and failed to exercise ordinary care in keeping the campus premises safe. They also add that the university had actual and constructive knowledge of the need to secure the campus, warn students of safety issues and adequately control the campus as to not create an unreasonable risk of injury. These claims are made in an attempt to satisfy the first two elements of negligence. To satisfy cause, the family alleges the university’s negligence in maintaining safety, failing to take appropriate action, and negligent hiring and supervision of their agents was the proximate cause of the death of their son. Finally, as a result of these actions, damages are appropriate since they lost their son.


Statute of Limitations

There are limitations as to the time frame in which a claim may be brought by the estate or interested parties in a wrongful death action. In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date the victim died. A statute of limitations period simply refers to the time limits the court has put on a particular type of case to be brought, however, the courts take the statute of limitations period very seriously and adhering to it is critical. There are very few circumstances in which the court will allow a case to be brought in after the statute of limitations has expired, thus, contacting a personal injury attorney early is very beneficial.


Contact Us Today

The victims of wrongful death actions deserve justice. If someone you know was involved in what you believe to be a wrongful death action due to the negligence of another person, do not hesitate to contact our dedicated Fayetteville, GA wrongful death attorneys today and let us fight to get you what you deserve. Your case review is always free. The Wade Law Offices proudly represent clients in Atlanta and the surrounding areas.

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