Legal matters can frequently generate racy headlines, but combining “The Big Three” of Sex, Death and Taxes is unusual even when it comes to big cases. But, recent events in our local courts got us thinking about the interesting way that these topics can come together.
Let’s start at the end and work backwards. Death: Of course, there are all kinds of legal implications associated with death. In our practice, the most tragic consequence is a needless death where compensation is due—that is the so-called “wrongful death.” Ironically, under the old “common law” which we inherited from England, survivors had no right to sue for the death of a loved one. Fortunately, all of that changed with the enactment of the Virginia Wrongful Death Act, Section 8.01-50. In the unfortunate circumstance of a vehicle collision, fire, work-related accident, fall or other event which has brought about the death of a loved one, survivors can sue for medical bills, funeral expenses, lost earnings, sorrow, grief and mental anguish.
I have used the term “loved ones” loosely. In fact, people who may benefit from a wrongful death suit are generally in the same category as heirs who would receive property if the individual died without a will, that is, the surviving spouse and then close relatives.
This got us thinking about the same-sex marriage case now pending in federal court in which this office has been involved. Hence, the topic of Sex: As has been widely publicized, same-sex couples are suing for the right to marry. In many cases, they have already married in other states which permit same-sex marriage, yet Virginia law does not recognize the validity of the marriage. This raises an interesting question as to whether same-sex spouses would be able to sue for wrongful death. Under Virginia law, as matter now stands, the simple answer would seem to be no.
As the federal courts consider the legality of this prohibition, those with concerns about possible wrongful death cases should pay careful attention. Our society is evolving rapidly, but legal change can take much longer.
Which brings up the next topic: Taxes: Despite the name, wrongful death settlements are not subject to the so-called “death tax,” which is really a form of estate taxation. While IRS rules may tax certain items, like loss of earning capacity or punitive damages, so-called non-pecuniary damages like sorrow, grief and mental anguish are still beyond the reach of the taxman.
When it comes to inevitabilities like death, sex and taxes, the talk can indeed turn grim. Leave it to The Jeff Brooke Team to assist you with a wrongful death case in Virginia. While we can make light of these things here, the consequences of negligent behavior can be catastrophic for families and cry out for competent legal assistance.