On Sunday, January 7, 2018, Dallas Henry Massey drove a car with Earline Colvard Massey as a passenger. The driver failed to stop at a stop sign, hit an embankment, and overturned the car in Pittsylvania County. He went to Danville Regional Medical Center for treatment. First responders flew Earline Colvard Massey to Roanoke Memorial Hospital. She was severely injured and later died from her injuries.
This is a rare case where the passenger’s wrongful death claim arises from a single car accident. This story, as heartbreaking as it is, reflects a nuance in personal injury law that most people don’t think about: a passenger has a wrongful death claim against the driver of her vehicle. This story clears up several possible misconceptions about passenger claims in Virginia.
A passenger’s wrongful death claim is not limited to drivers of other cars
Most of the time you think about personal injury cases, you think of a two-car accident. In most cases, one driver crashes into another car and the driver/passenger of the innocent car are injured. This is certainly the more common scenario but not necessarily the only one where a passenger has a claim.
In this case, it appears that the police should charge the driver with something that could resemble failure to obey traffic signal (stop sign) or even reckless driving. The passenger obviously didn’t do anything wrong in this scenario. Because she passed away, there is no personal injury case any more. Instead, her estate has a statutory wrongful death claim
A passenger’s wrongful death should result in statutory damages
Wrongful death claims are a creature of statute and permit certain family members to recover the following damages:
1. Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent;
2. Compensation for reasonably expected loss of (i) income of the decedent and (ii) services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent;
3. Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in death;
4. Reasonable funeral expenses; and
5. Punitive damages may be recovered for willful or wanton conduct, or such recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
The passenger’s wrongful death damages listed in # 1 above describes what we all feel after losing a loved one. Indeed, we all suffer deep sorrow, mental anguish and solace. Because of this statute, a jury can compensate the family of the passenger who experienced those deep feelings in the passenger’s wrongful death case. This is so very difficult though to put a dollar number on, though. How do you compensate someone for their sorrow, their mental anguish, their solace? While it is incredibly difficult, it is the task of the Court or jury to put dollar figures one each of those things.
The damages listed in # 2-4 are fairly simple to calculate. These damages come from healthcare providers, employers, and funeral homes. Your attorney should include them in every wrongful death claim. These damages are very similar to some of the damages one would expect to see in a personal injury case.
If you’ve lost a loved one because of the negligence of a driver, give us a call to see if you have a case. Your wrongful death consultation is free and there are no obligations.