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 intentional or negligent actions caused their death.
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. If successful, the plaintiffs may receive damage awards to cover the reasonable costs of:
- Pain and suffering
- Personal injury
- Future loss of the decedent’s income, assistance, services, and care
- Expenses incurred prior to the death, including hospitalization and treatment
- Funeral and burial costs
These economic and noneconomic damage awards will go to the decedent’s estate and may then be distributed according to the will’s instructions.
Defendants in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Some agencies and people 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. Otherwise, these lawsuits can be initiated against people, businesses, and agencies. Some of these cases have many defendants.
To illustrate this, 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 that built a scaffold that broke, a government agency that did not inspect the job site, the owner of the construction company, and the worker’s supervisor who may have been negligent.
Suing for Wrongful Death
In most situations, the person who files the wrongful death claim is a family member or a beneficiary. This representative is often the executor for 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 this for individuals unrelated by marriage or blood and for parents of a deceased fetus.
To establish liability and recover damages, it must be shown that the at-fault party’s wrongful conduct or negligence breached the duty of care they owed to the deceased, and this negligence caused the death to occur.
How 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. 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 proven. 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.
Our Virginia Beach Personal Injury Lawyers Help Families Find Closure After Wrongful Deaths Occur
Wrongful death claims can be highly emotional and complex, so it is best to talk to one of our experienced Virginia Beach personal injury lawyers to explore your options. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we pride ourselves in helping those who suffered the loss of a loved one. Contact us online or call us at 757-352-2237 to schedule a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia we serve clients in Chesapeake, Eastern Shores, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.