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When you lose a loved one unexpectedly, it’s often difficult to think about what to do next. In many cases, families may not know that Virginia law entitles them to seek compensation if another person’s negligence caused the death.

Here are some tips on how to file a wrongful death lawsuit and the recovery available for family members.

How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Figuring out how to file a wrongful death lawsuit on your own is stressful, especially if you haven’t filed a case before. Here are some steps that will help put you and your family on the path toward recovery. 

1. Determine the Order of Succession

The first step in filing a wrongful death lawsuit is to identify the executor of the estate for the deceased. Under Virginia Code § 8.01-50, only the executor or legal personal representative of the deceased may bring the lawsuit.

However, the order of succession determines who may be named a beneficiary in the lawsuit. For example, § 8.01-53 awards damages to the following beneficiaries:

  • The surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren of the deceased;
  • If there is no surviving spouse, child, etc., the surviving parents and siblings of the deceased; or
  • Any surviving family member if none of the above people are alive.

Virginia also considers any person related to the deceased by blood, marriage, or adoption to be a family member. This means that stepchildren or adoptive children of the deceased may be beneficiaries as well.

2. Collect Evidence of Your Damages

Under § 8.01-52, the court may award a variety of economic and non-economic damages depending on the circumstances. This includes:

  • Mental anguish and sorrow;
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, and guidance;
  • Loss of the deceased’s income, services, protection, and care;
  • Medical expenses relating to the injury which caused death; and
  • Funeral expenses.

In rare cases, the court may also apply punitive damages if the defendant acted in an especially reckless way. The goal of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for willful or wanton conduct.

They don’t compensate for any specific loss incurred by the claimant or the beneficiaries.

3. File Your Case in a Timely Manner

If you decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s best to do it as soon as possible.

Virginia, much like other states, has a statute of limitations for filing a claim. This statute limits the amount of time claimants have to file before the court refuses to hear the case.

According to § 8.01-244, the personal representative must file within two years after the deceased’s death.

Failing to file a claim within this time period may bar any survivors from recovering damages, so it’s important to file quickly.

Consult an Experienced Virginia Wrongful Death Attorney Today

If you have lost a loved one due to a preventable accident, you don’t have to go through it alone. The River Run Law team knows how devastating a wrongful death can be for the surviving family.

We’re here to answer any questions you have about the process and fight for the justice you deserve. 

To schedule a consultation, please call or contact us now. We proudly serve clients throughout the state of Virginia from our practice in Richmond.

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Brooke Alexander

Brooke graduated from the University of Richmond School of Law after receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Brooke worked for five years in private practice with a law firm specializing in insurance defense litigation before becoming the trial litigator for Allstate Insurance Company in the metro Richmond area.

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