When you’ve lost a loved one in an accident, grieving your loss and consoling your family members are all that’s on your mind, as it should be. But, if the accident was the result of someone else’s negligence, Virginia’s wrongful death law may entitle you and your family to recover monetary damages for your loss — and you have a limited amount of time to file. You can read on for answers to some basic questions about wrongful death actions from Jeff Brooke, an experienced auto accident lawyer in Virginia Beach.
What Is a Wrongful Death Action?
Wrongful death actions are a type of personal injury lawsuit. When a person loses his or her life because of someone else’s negligent actions, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by family members if allowed by the laws of the state where the death occurred. Virginia has a wrongful death statute that enables family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The law governs wrongful death lawsuits filed in Virginia.
The Virginia statute defines a wrongful death as a death“caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another person. The circumstances must be the type that would have supported a personal injury action by the deceased person had he or she survived. Wrongful death claims often result from car and truck accidents, but they can also arise from workplace accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, premises liability, hunting accidents and other firearm accidents, as well as many other types of situations.
The right to bring a wrongful death action is not open-ended. There is a statute of limitations, which specifies how long the deceased person’s family has to file a lawsuit. The period begins to run on the date of death and lasts for two years. At the end of two years, any action filed in court will be dismissed based on expiration of the statute of limitations. Because of the limit, if you lost a family member in a situation that may give rise to a wrongful death action, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as you are comfortable doing so.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The Virginia law is very specific about who is entitled to file a wrongful death claim. It sets priorities of entitlement. In large and blended families, the question of exactly which family members can file an action can be very complicated.
The right does not automatically belong to the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. Priorities under the statute are the same as inheritance rights under the state’s law of intestate succession, which means the heirs who would inherit in the absence of a will or estate plan. Those heirs sometimes will be different that the beneficiaries named in a will. The statutory order of priority is:
- Surviving spouse and children or grandchildren of the decedent
- Surviving parents and siblings of the decedent, or any relative who shared the decedent’s household and was a dependent of the decedent
- Any surviving family member who would inherit under Virginia’s intestacy laws
The ability to file a lawsuit for each category of relatives is triggered only if there is no one in the category of higher priority. However, it can get even more complicated: For example, if there is a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse and surviving parents may file a wrongful death claim together. However, if parents abandoned a child during childhood, they cannot file a claim or recover damages for wrongful death. Other rules apply in different situations.
The only way to be certain which family members have the right to bring a wrongful death action in Virginia is to talk with an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney who knows the law.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case?
The wrongful death statute in Virginia addresses what damages can be recovered in a wrongful death action. There are several different types. Some damages compensate the decedent’s estate, and some compensate family members.
The statute provides that the jury or court may award damages that“seem fair and just.” The law goes on to say that that a judge trying a case without a jury shall include economic damages such as: lost wages and benefits, including reasonably expected loss of income the decedent would have earned during his or her lifetime; medical and hospital expenses; and funeral and burial expenses.
In addition, the award may include non-economic damages, such as: sorrow and mental anguish; loss of companionship, care, guidance, and comfort; and, in some circumstances, even punitive damages. The statute specifies that punitive damages may be available for “willful or wanton conduct” or “recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
Talk With an Auto Accident Lawyer in Virginia Beach
While it’s difficult to think about talking with an attorney after you’ve lost a loved one in an accident, you are entitled by Virginia law to recover monetary damages if someone else’s negligence caused the death. Certainly, no amount of money can make up for life without your loved one. The law recognizes that you have suffered economically and emotionally in the only way it can — by providing the means for you to hold the person at fault responsible. It’s important to remember that in most cases, it will be an insurance company who pays the damages in a wrongful death case, not the person who caused the accident or his or her family.
If you have lost a loved one through someone else’s fault, talking with Jeff Brooke — an experienced, knowledgeable auto accident lawyer in Virginia Beach — can put your mind at ease about whether a wrongful death action is the right course to pursue. You should talk with Attorney Brooke before you have any discussions with an insurance company or adjuster, because insurance representatives will not have your and your family’s best interests at heart. The Jeff Brooke Team will protect your interests and pursue your rights. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.