“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Wrongful Death Cases in Virginia
Losing a close family member to natural causes is always difficult. But losing a family member through the wrongful behavior of another is harder. Unfortunately, we speak through experience. Our Virginia wrongful death lawyers have personal experience that informs how the approach these cases.
The effects of a loved one’s death can be devastating, and families whose have had their family members die because drunk drivers or at work due to poor safety standards should file a lawsuit or claim for benefits for wrongful death.
Wrongful death cases are different than personal injury claims in more ways than just the obvious. When we see tragedies that lead to wrongful deaths, one of our first questions is often “Why did this happen?” or concerns about how someone could have prevented their own tragic ending if it had been handled differently.
We understand there’s no easy answer for any given situation but the family still needs clarification on some basics before getting too carried away with speculation.
What types of damages are allowed in a Virginia wrongful death case?
In a personal injury case, you are asking to recover for things like medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain, mental anguish, inconvenience, etc.
But in a wrongful death claim, damages are based on the ended relationship from the perspective of what the law calls the statutory beneficiary. Your Virginia wrongful death lawyer should know these differences.
A statutory beneficiary is a person listed (essentially) as an heir in Virginia Code § 8.01-53:
- the surviving spouse, children of the deceased and children of any deceased child of the deceased, and, only if there is a surviving spouse, children of the deceased, or children of any deceased child of the deceased, the parents of the decedent if any of such parents, within 12 months prior to the decedent’s death, regularly received support or regularly received services from the decedent for necessaries, including living expenses, food, shelter, health care expenses, or in-home assistance or care, or
- if there is no surviving spouse, children of the deceased, or children of any deceased child of the deceased, then to the parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased, and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or
- if the decedent has left both surviving spouse and parent or parents, but no child or grandchild, the award shall be distributed to the surviving spouse and such parent or parents or
- if there are survivors under clause (i) or clause (iii), the award shall be distributed to those beneficiaries and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or
- if no survivors exist under clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), the award shall be distributed in the course of descents as provided for in § 64.2-200.
These damages are higher or lesser depending on the degree of the relationship between the surviving statutory beneficiary and the deceased loved one.
- Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice of the decedent;
- Compensation for a reasonably expected loss of (i) income of the decedent and (ii) services, protection, care, and assistance provided by the decedent;
- Expenses for the care, treatment, and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in death;
- Reasonable funeral expenses; and
- Punitive damages may be recovered for willful or wanton conduct or such recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
What Can I Expect in a Wrongful Death Case?
Sometimes, the insurance companies will just pay out the policy limits for a wrongful death case that is clearly the fault of their insured.
However, often, the insurance company will contest liability and say that the deceased was partly at fault in the accident. You see, in Virginia, the doctrine of contributory negligence bars and financial recovery for a loved one if the deceased was party responsible for the accident.
In those cases, you need a Virginia wrongful death lawyer who can help you walk through the entire process. The law in Virginia is helpful in this regard:
“[A] defendant who relies on contributory negligence as a defense has the burden of proving that it existed and that it was a proximate cause of the accident. As a corollary to this rule, it has also long been accepted universally that in a wrongful death action, in the absence of eyewitnesses testimony or other evidence to the contrary, it will be presumed that the deceased acted with ordinary care. This well-settled principle derives from the recognition that, death having silenced the decedent from testifying on his own behalf, the defendant should not benefit from being able to assert that the decedent was negligent in the absence of other evidence to support that assertion.”Hot Shot Express, Inc. v. Brooks, 264 Va. 126, 136, 563 S.E.2d 764 (2002) (emphasis added) (citing Elliot v. Lewis, 207 Va. 361, 265, 150 S.E.2d 129, 131 (1966); Charlottesville Music Cen. v. McCray, 215 Va. 31, 37, 205 S.E.2d 674, 679 (1974); Hagan v. Hicks, 209 Va. 499, 505, 165 S.E.2d 421, 426 (1969); Looney v. Metropolitan Railroad Co., 200 U.S. 480, 488 (1906); and Richards v. Southern Pacific Transp., 666 F.2d 99, 109 (5th Cir. 1982) (Tate, J. dissenting)).
But this is not dispositive.
Just because there is no evidence of contributory negligence does not mean that your family’s claim will prevail over the defendant. We still have to prove that the defendant was, in fact, negligence. And we have to do that through the physical evidence and the testimony of the defendant. If there is a conflict, then the case gets more and more difficult.
This is what happened in this $500,000 Settlement Case. In that case, there was very little physical evidence and the offending tractor trailer driver said that he never saw our client’s husband. The case was an uphill battle but the work of our team assembled statements from other truckers and workers at the convenience store causing the insurance company to negotiate.
Contact Your Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyers Today
If you need counsel during this difficult time, we’d be honored to be your wrongful death lawyers. Sometimes, our free strategy sessions result in a representation. Other times, they just result in a fact finding process. Either way, we will treat you with dignity and respect. We will acknowledge your grief, and pray with you if appropriate.
We do not see you as a number or a dollar sign. We see our clients as people created in the image of God. We hope that comes through in person and on-line.