Georgia Department Of Transportation Agrees To Settle Fatal Accident for $600,000

After more than seven years, Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) made a settlement with the family of Patricia Heller according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  51 year old Patricia Heller tragically died in a taxi accident on January 29, 2003.  After flying into Atlanta that day, Patricia Heller caught a taxi to her new employer in order to discuss the opening of an office in Boston.  However, Heller never made it.

During the taxi ride, the taxi “spun out on the rain-slick roadway and slammed into a tree,” where Heller died instantly.  Heller’s husband filed a lawsuit against the Georgia DOT, the taxi driver, the city of Atlanta, and city inspector, Greg Shepard for wrongful death.

The accident occurred on I-85.  Georgia DOT agreed to pay $600,000 to Heller’s family and “wishes to express its sincerest apology to her husband, Dr. Ed. Heller, and their children, Kimberly and Ryan, for their still painful loss of their wife and mother.” 

Jury selection was set for this week in Fulton County State Court.  Heller’s husband filed the lawsuit.  The taxi Heller rode in passed an Atlanta city inspection the day before the accident even though it had bald tires.  Heller’s husband accused DOT of negligence for the way the section of the interstate was designed where the accident occurred.

It has taken so long to go to trial because the State was trying to claim they were immune to the lawsuit.  This case went to the state Supreme Court and the State was unsuccessful.  Other defendants were added to the lawsuit, not just the Georgia DOT.  However, the city of Atlanta was dismissed from the case.

The trial is going forward against former city inspector, Greg Shepard and against the estate of the taxi driver.  What Heller’s husband is asking for is a judgment of more than $11 million in medical bills, lost earnings, and punitive damages.

This was a tragic accident that resulted in a family losing their mother and wife.  DOT has made changes to that highway.  In 2006, they cut down the trees by the side of I-85, making a larger clearance for trees.

Do you know who is entitled to recover for the loss of a loved one, like in Patricia Heller’s case?

Under Georgia law, the spouse and children of the decedent are entitled to file a claim of wrongful death.  If there is no spouse, the decedent’s children have the right to recovery.  If there is no spouse or children, the decedent’s parents are entitled to recover for wrongful death assuming there is not will of the decedent stating otherwise.  If there is no spouse, children, or living parents, the administrator of the decedent’s estate has a right to pursue a claim for wrongful death.

If the spouse of the decedent pursues a claim and there is no Will, they are required to share a portion of the proceeds from any lawsuit for wrongful death with the children, according to Georgia law.  Georgia law does, however, generally guarantee the spouse will receive one-third of any recovery of damages for wrongful death.  If there is a minor child involved, the right to recovery is vested in the parent or legal guardian until the minor reaches the age of majority (generally 18 years of age).

Georgia has a statute of limitations of two years for wrongful death lawsuits.  A statute of limitations is the given time period during which a legal action can be made.

Wrongful death cases can be extremely difficult to understand, complex and challenging.  If you have experienced a tragic death of a loved one, you may want to consider contacting our Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyers at Childers, Schlueter & Smith, LLC to see how we can help. All inquires are kept strictly confidential and initial consultations are free.

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