Losing a loved one is always challenging for a family. When a family learns a loved one died in a preventable accident, it can feel more devastating. Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This paradigm helps guide you through your emotional recovery from losing someone.
But it cannot account for the expenses and impacts you experience from the wrongful death of your loved one. You may have medical bills while simultaneously losing a primary breadwinner of your family. You or a family member might require psychological therapy to cope with the loss.
You can hold a party at fault for your loved one’s passing accountable for these and other expenses. Contact a Richmond wrongful death lawyer today who can help you understand what legal options you have.
When to Consider Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia
When you have lost a loved one and are considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia, you need a lawyer who understands when you can file these suits.
In a wrongful death action, you must establish:
- The defendant (person or entity) owed the decedent a duty of care
- The defendant took acted in a way that was contrary to, or “breached,” their duty of care
- The defendant’s breach of their duty resulted in death and the expenses and impacts for which you are claiming compensation.
The elements for establishing wrongful death are parallel to those applying in personal injury cases. Thus, in effect, if the person had survived and had cause to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party who caused their injury, you likely have a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Virginia Wrongful Death Claim
State law limits who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia. Wrongful death lawsuits are filed on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries. Virginia Code § 8.01-53 defines this term and allows the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to handle the claim. The personal representative files the suit on behalf of the beneficiaries.
Virginia law also provides who may be beneficiaries, which include:
- The decedent’s spouse and children
- If a child of the decedent is deceased, to the decedent’s grandchildren
- When there are no parents, children, or grandchildren—the parents, siblings, or another dependent family member of the decedent.
Furthermore, if the decedent left behind a spouse and no children, the estate may file a claim on behalf of the spouse and parents. If no surviving family members fit the above definitions, then any family member who would inherit the assets of the decedent per the intestacy laws in Virginia becomes the statutory beneficiary and may file a wrongful death action.
Causes of Death Which May Result in Wrongful Death Claims
Serious injuries and death in many cases result from negligent or reckless behavior.
Not every person dies immediately from a serious injury.
Some may suffer for days or weeks before they die from:
- Roadway accidents – car, truck, and motorcycle accidents can cause fatal injuries. If the victim dies, the victim’s family can hold the at-fault driver liable through a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Medical malpractice – a shocking statistic of which many are unaware is that as many as 80,000 people in the United States die each year from a misdiagnosis. You can hold medical providers accountable when proper diagnosis could have prevented a death. A Virginia wrongful diagnosis attorney can help families file a wrongful death claim.
- Assault resulting in death – deliberate actions of a criminal nature, such as gunshots, beatings, or stab wounds can kill the person assaulted. Families of victims of such heinous acts can and should exercise their right to recover compensation. It is important to note that a family can still succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit even if a criminal court fails to convict the defendant. The civil and criminal processes are separate.
- Premises liability accidents – someone falls down a flight of unsafe stairs; a person drowns in a swimming pool because a lifeguard was inattentive; someone slipped in an icy parking lot because of poor lighting. These are a few of the premises liability accidents that cause accidental deaths. When a facility owner fails to safely maintain their property, a family can hold them accountable through a wrongful death action.
These are just a few examples of the types of incidents that could give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit. Anyone who has lost a loved one and feels the death would not have happened but for the wrongdoing of another should seek legal help and find out what options they have under Virginia law.
Deadline for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
You must bring a wrongful death lawsuit within two years after the victim’s death. However, waiting could jeopardize your rights, so speak with experienced attorneys as soon as possible after your loved one’s passing so they can start building your case.
Your Legal Rights After Wrongful Death of a Loved One in Virginia
Losing someone you love in a preventable accident is a shock. It can cause you to feel helpless.
While money cannot bring your loved one back, you should not have to live with the financial devastation their loss will bring you and your family.
If you believe your loved one would have lived except for the wrongful actions of someone else, reach out to an experienced Virginia wrongful death attorney to find out how to hold the responsible parties accountable.