The unexpected and preventable death of a loved one often results in significant psychological, physical, and financial damages.
In an effort to address the financial aspect of these deaths, Virginia permits the deceased personal representative to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
Under Virginia Code § 8.01-50, “wrongful death” refers to a death resulting from another individual or entity’s wrongful act, neglect, or default.
The circumstances surrounding the death must be of the kind that would have permitted the person to pursue a personal injury lawsuit had they lived.
In this article, the Virginia wrongful death lawyers at River Run Law will go over the elements of a wrongful death lawsuit. If you have questions or would like to know more, please contact us online today.
Elements of Wrongful Death in Virginia
Wrongful death lawsuits operate in the same way as most other negligence-based claims. As such, the at-fault party’s liability manifests in terms of monetary damages.
The plaintiff, usually the estate’s personal representative, must establish the elements of a wrongful death suit. These elements include establishing the following:
- Duty of Care: The representative must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim.
- Breach of Duty: The representative must establish that the defendant breached their statutory duty of care to the victim.
- Actual or Proximate Causation: The breach was the actual or proximate cause of the victim’s death.
Although the personal representative must file the claim, any resulting compensation will go to the victim’s beneficiaries.
A personal injury attorney can ensure that the estate meets the wrongful death elements and secures a just outcome.
Who Are Beneficiaries of Virginia’s Wrongful Death Claim?
Under Virginia Code Section § 8.01-53, statutory beneficiaries include certain family members defined by law. Statutory beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim include:
- The victim’s surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren (if the victim’s child is deceased);
- If there is no surviving spouse, child, or grandchild, the victim’s surviving parents, siblings, or dependent household relatives; or
- If none of the above beneficiaries are alive, the damages award goes to any surviving family member that Virginia intestacy laws authorize.
This process protects the rights of the statutory beneficiaries and ensures that the correct party recovers damages.
Wrongful Death Damages
After a favorable Virginia wrongful death lawsuit, the court orders the liable party to pay “damages” to the victim’s survivors or estate.
In Virginia, wrongful death lawsuit damages may include monetary compensation related to:
- Mental anguish;
- Loss of the victim’s guidance, companionship, and comfort;
- Loss of the victim’s income and benefits;
- Loss of the victim’s services, care, and protection;
- Medical expenses that the victims incurred because of the incident; and
- Reasonable funeral and burial costs.
In narrow instances, the court may permit punitive damages. These damages are available in cases where the plaintiff can prove that the at-fault party acted with “willful and wanton” negligence.
These cases require claimants to abide by strict procedural and substantive rules.
Calculating Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death claimants should consult with an attorney to determine the evidence they need to substantiate their claims for damages.
Typically, calculating damages in a wrongful death lawsuit is a complicated process that requires various types of experts.
A wrongful death attorney can help claimants secure the relevant experts to aid in calculating the extent of damages the law entitles.
Experts engage in a complex mathematical process to determine the victim’s financial contribution and the family members’ losses.
Subsequently, an experienced attorney can use these findings to make a compelling case for maximum recovery.
Time Limit on Filing Virginia Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Virginia Code § 8.01-244 requires that wrongful death claimants file their suits within the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is generally two years from the date the victim died. The court will likely dismiss cases that do not abide by the statute of limitations.
There are very few exceptions to the statute of limitations. However, the court may permit a lawsuit after the time period if the family member does not discover their loved one’s death until after their passing.
Moreover, an exception to the statute may be available if the claimant is a minor at the time of their parent’s death. In these situations, the claimant has until two years after their 18th birthday to file their wrongful death lawsuit.
If You Have Additional Questions About the Elements of Wrongful Death, a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help
If you recently lost a loved one in a tragic accident, you may be able to recover financial compensation from the person or people responsible for your loss.