How is a Wrongful Death Claim Filed in Virginia?
A wrongful death claim arises after someone dies under certain circumstances, including but not limited to medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, defective products, dog bites, airplane crashes, and car accidents. A defendant can be held legally liable for a person’s death if their negligent actions caused the death.
A wrongful death claim is warranted when immediate family members are grieving and know that the death in their family could have been avoided. Some things in this world are out of our control, but senseless deaths must be met with steep consequences. A personal injury lawyer can determine who is to blame for the death of a friend or loved one, fight for maximum compensation, and support the family during a difficult time.
Our Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers are prepared to help families gain the compensation they deserve. It takes money to recover, support the children, and allow the family to stay afloat during this trying time. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we are uniquely prepared to help our clients receive the care that they need, and we can help our customers navigate the legal process as lawyers, insurance companies, and defendants reach out to offer a settlement.
How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Arise?
A wrongful death claim arises when someone dies of injuries that would have amounted to a personal injury claim. Some victims die when the accident occurs, or they pass away when their injuries are too overwhelming to make a recovery. These deaths are indeed tragic.
However, we understand that these deaths are not the result of natural causes. When we can show that someone’s negligence or malicious intent caused a death, we will file a claim on behalf of the family. We ask our clients to schedule a consultation to share all the information they have with our team. We can help our clients understand the merits of their case, and we will continue to collect evidence until we can proceed.
Wrongful death lawsuits are appropriate in a variety of instances, but they are not allowed in other cases. There is a clear difference between a wrongful death claim and a death benefits claim. When there is confusion among the family about how to recover compensation, they can reach out to us for assistance.
Common Wrongful Death Cases
Some families do not realize that they are eligible for a wrongful death claim because they are so stricken by the death of a loved one. When we review cases, we work with a vast range of people who have experienced tragedies that range from simple accidents to much more violent accidents with malicious intent. The most common types of wrongful death cases include the following:
Car accidents. Car accidents can injure or kill passengers and drivers. If a driver was negligent while on the road, they can be the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit. Some accidents are tragic mistakes for which no one is to blame, but many accidents are the result of blatant speeding, aggressive driving, road rage, distracted driving, or intoxication. We will determine how the guilty driver erred before filing a claim because we need to ascertain the truth and show how their negligence killed the driver or passenger.
Trucking accidents. Commercial trucking accidents are even more violent and unpredictable. The driver could have been intoxicated or otherwise impaired, speeding, driving an imbalanced load, or distracted. The trucking company may have failed to maintain the truck properly, or the company that loaded the truck might have done a bad job. We can determine where the system broke down so that we know who should be named in the lawsuit.
Field work deaths. These can sometimes be paid for through a Workers’ Compensation insurance claim, but property owners who are reckless and negligent in the maintenance of their properties can be cited in a wrongful death lawsuit when a worker dies on their premises.
Defective products. Every year, Americans are killed by defective products. We will show that the manufacturer of that product knew it was defective, used substandard materials, and did not properly alert the authorities when the product should have been recalled. In these cases, the manufacturer must be stopped before they produce more items that could be dangerous.
Medical malpractice. Medical malpractice claims could involve doctors, surgeons, nurses, medical assistants, and even nursing homes or home care aides. We will show that the hospital did not provide a safe place for patients to receive care, or we may find that medical professionals were reckless, careless, or negligent.
A personal injury lawyer will investigate each case, investigate what needs to be done, and calculate the value of the claim before filing. We will explain the proposed claim to the client, and begin negotiating a settlement, if possible. These cases should not wait because delays might cause the case to be invalidated by the court.
How can Families Compile Wrongful Death Evidence?
When a defendant is found guilty of causing another person’s death, the surviving family members may have the option to sue. Most wrongful death cases follow criminal trials and use some of the same evidence. If the plaintiffs can show clear, convincing evidence against the defendant and prove fault beyond reasonable doubt, wrongful death actions will commence.
At the same time, wrongful death claims may come about as a result of negligence that did not spark a criminal trial. Someone who slipped and fell in public could have died due to the negligence of a public entity that should have maintained that space. The same could be true of an injury that is sustained by someone who is not working on a construction site but is harmed by construction equipment or debris. Car accidents could kill passengers or drivers, and we recommend that families try to collect as much evidence as possible. The following steps are helpful at an accident scene:
- Take pictures or videos of the scene that show how the accident occurred and who or what was involved in the accident. These pictures or videos may be the only evidence that can be collected from the scene.
- Obtain witness statements from those who were present at the accident. This is a trying time for everyone, but we need as much evidence as possible when framing a convincing case for the court. The personal information of the victim can be very helpful to the case.
- Call 911 immediately; the defendant in a wrongful death case might claim that the deceased did not seek medical attention in a timely manner, and in effect, caused their own death.
We must create a convincing case for the court that shows the death could have been prevented. As stated, many of these cases follow criminal trials. The defendant may have been found not guilty, but we can recover compensation from these people in civil court to help the family heal. If we do not have evidence, we cannot show that the death was preventable.
How are Damages Recovered in Wrongful Death Cases?
When a wrongful death claim is filed, we seek damages in several different categories. We must formulate a case that shows our clients should be compensated in several different ways. We will use industry standards to determine the total amount of the suit, and we can break down these costs to help the defendant and/or the court understand our petition for compensation. If successful, the plaintiffs may receive damage awards to cover the reasonable costs of the following:
Pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is a reflection of the loss of quality of life, mental anguish, and suffering inflicted on the family when the death occurs. We will show that the family has been changed forever by the death. We can also request payment for personal injury that may be related to the case.
Future loss of the decedent’s income. We must calculate the lost income, lost financial support for members of the family, lost services the deceased may have provided, and lost earning potential.
Expenses incurred prior to the death. Expenses may have been incurred when the deceased party was in the hospital or receiving medical treatment. We must add those medical expenses to our claim, and we will work with doctors and medical facilities to collect all the receipts and medical records for the deceased.
Funeral and burial costs. We will request payment for funeral and burial expenses. A funeral and burial can be expensive, and the family needs to recover that money if they plan to move on and survive. Families may have needed to crowdfund just for a proper burial, and we can recover those funds for the family.
Punitive damages. Punitive damages are also available in the state of Virginia. We will request the maximum damages we believe are allowed in the case, but our clients must know that punitive damages in the state of Virginia are capped at $350,000.
These economic and non-economic damage awards will go to the decedent’s estate and may then be distributed according to the will’s instructions. Our lawyers will also help the family manage these awards once they have been paid out.
Who are the Defendants in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Some agencies and individuals are immune to wrongful death suits, including certain government agencies and their employees. Defendants in some product liability cases and railroad collisions may also be protected by federal laws. Personal injuries that would lead to compensation claims through a company’s insurance provider are handled by the insurance company. If these death benefits are not paid, we can file a claim for death benefits against the insurance company or government agency that is required to pay according to local or federal law.
Otherwise, these lawsuits can be initiated against individuals, businesses, and agencies. Some of these cases have many defendants, and we must investigate the case carefully until we understand who should be cited in the claim. If we do not know all the moving parts of the case, we cannot successfully go to court. One of the most important parts of any case is the truthfulness of our clients.
For example, an accident at a construction site could lead to a worker’s fall and death. The wrongful death case could implicate several parties, such as a manufacturer of a scaffold that broke, a government agency that did not inspect the job site, and the worker’s supervisor who may have been negligent. If the agency that caused the death is immune from wrongful death suits, we must ensure that our clients receive the death benefits that they are owed. Nothing can be done to file suit because these entities are shielded from immunity by federal and state laws.
Additionally, there are businesses that are shielded from liability because they have already set up funds to pay for certain illnesses, such as mesothelioma. We can simply file a claim for wrongful death against the trust that the company has established.
What is the Process of a Wrongful Death Suit?
In most situations, the person who files the wrongful death claim is a family member or beneficiary. This representative is often the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate and will claim to have suffered damage from the wrongful death. The definition for these plaintiffs varies by state and can include spouses, children, siblings, and grandparents. Life partners, domestic partners, and people who were financially dependent on the deceased may also be entitled to damages; some states will also allow settlements for individuals unrelated by marriage or blood and for parents of a deceased fetus.
The person who stands to inherit the estate can file suit on behalf of those who depended on the deceased. The representative of the estate will file suit, and they will note that they are filing on behalf of the children, spouse, parents, grandparents, or other relatives who were dependent on the deceased. We will review the case, determine who can file the claim under Virginia law, and file the claim with the local court. We can then begin negotiating a settlement or prepare to go to court. We ask our clients what they prefer and offer guidance when the client has several options to close the case.
To establish liability and recover damages, it must be shown that the at-fault party’s negligence breached the duty of care they owed to the deceased, and this negligence caused the death to occur. Our team will update our clients regularly throughout the process and show that the injuries/death were caused by malicious intent, recklessness, or carelessness.
How Do Virginia Laws Apply?
All 50 states have wrongful death laws, which can apply to different types of fatalities. Virginia’s statute of limitations for filing is two years after the death took place, and the suit may be filed by a representative, certain family members, or dependents. In rare cases, clients might bring a case against the defendant after the statute of limitations has expired. If there are no family members, the claim belongs to the person designated to inherit the victim’s estate.
Virginia also allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages in wrongful death claims. For this, the defendant’s deliberate disregard for another’s safety must be proved. To arrive at a settlement, factors such as the decedent’s age, education, earning capacity, state of health when the injury occurred, amount of medical and funeral expenses, and age of the dependents will all be taken into consideration.
When we request punitive damages in the case, we are at the mercy of the judge or jury. We simply add these damages to the overall total we have calculated.
How can Clients Protect Themselves While a Case is Pending?
When our clients have come to us to file a wrongful death lawsuit, they may be contacted by insurance companies, lawyers, and defendants in the case. A lawyer might offer a small settlement to close the case. The insurance company that will ultimately pay for the claim might have a lawyer reach out to get the case closed quickly, or a lawyer for the defendant might try to trick a client into saying something that calls their claim into question. Clients should do the following:
- Send letters and refer all phone calls from defendants, insurance companies, and attorneys to our office.
- Do not answer questions about the case without one of our lawyers present.
- Do not speak to an insurance company because they often record calls.
These steps can help clients preserve their cases and avoid confusion.
Why Should Grieving Families Hire a Lawyer?
Grieving families should hire a lawyer as soon as possible for assistance. It is difficult for the family to represent itself in court, and the family may need help understanding who will file the wrongful death claim, who will be named as a beneficiary, and who is disqualified.
Our team will investigate the case, file the claim, and negotiate a settlement. We are prepared to go to court to protect the rights of our clients, and we understand how the judicial system in Virginia works. We are trained negotiators, and we can give our clients advice concerning what a good deal includes, the true value of a claim, and how far the family should pursue the case.
Our Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyers Help Families Find Closure After a Wrongful Death
Reach out to the Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers today when you have lost someone to an accident. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we will review the case, determine who is at-fault, and fight for your right to maximum compensation. Call us today at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we assist grieving families throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shores, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.