How Does Virginia Define Wrongful Death?Under Virginia law, wrongful death may be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party, and that includes individuals, corporations, and ships or vessels. Wrongful death applies when the deceased person would have have been able to seek damages in a personal injury suit had they not lost their life. Virginia law also expressly addresses the wrongful death of a fetus. A surviving mother may bring claims on behalf of her fetus if an accident or injury resulted in the loss of her pregnancy. In all other wrongful death cases, a personal representative of the estate of the deceased must file the suit. Under Virginia law, when a verdict for the plaintiff is made in a wrongful death case, any award must be distributed to surviving family members as follows:
- Surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren if the victim’s children are not alive and are primary beneficiaries.
- If the deceased had no spouse or children, the award goes to parents and siblings of the deceased, or any other dependent who is also a family member.
- If there is a surviving spouse but no children, the award is distributed between the spouse and parents of the deceased.
Common Wrongful Death ScenariosNot all losses will qualify for a wrongful death claim. However, some of the most common wrongful death scenarios include:
Motor Vehicle AccidentsThe Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported 843 traffic accident fatalities in 2017, with 24 of those fatalities occurring in Henrico County. The vast majority of traffic accidents are preventable. When a negligent or reckless driver causes an accident that results in a fatality, they may be liable for a wrongful death claim.
Slip and Fall AccidentsAccording to the Virginia Department of Health, in 2016 more than 1,600 fatalities were caused by unintentional falls, with almost 200 of those in Henrico County. Property owners have a legal duty of care to maintain safe premises for anyone who may visit them. When an owner breaches that duty, by either an act or omission, and it results in a fatal accident, the property owner may be liable for a wrongful death claim.
Workplace AccidentsThousands of employees and workers are involved in workplace accidents each year, resulting in a range of injuries and even death. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 118 people died in Virginia in 2017 as a result of workplace accidents. Workplace fatalities may result from slip and fall accidents, exposure to hazardous substances, heavy equipment accidents, dangerous working conditions, and more. Making a wrongful death claim when the deceased suffered a workplace accident may be complicated by factors including whether the employer acted negligently or recklessly, a third party may have partial or total liability for damages, or workers compensation may also apply in the case. Speak to a lawyer with experience in both workers compensation and wrongful death claims if you lost your loved one because of a workplace accident.
Medical MalpracticePatients and their families depend on medical professionals to correctly diagnose, treat, and resolve injuries, illnesses, and health conditions, and these professionals have the highest duty of care under the law. When doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals breach that duty, the result may be devastating for victims and their families. Wrongful death may be caused by medical malpractice including such mistakes as surgical errors, misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis, treating the wrong patient, and prescribing or administering the wrong medicine or dosage.
Defective ProductsThe Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates tens of thousands of deaths are caused by defective products each year. Defective products may be the result of design defects, manufacturing defects, or even information defects, which is when a company fails to inform and/or adequately warn consumers about the safe use of a product. Manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers may all be liable for damages caused by a defective product. The CPSC receives millions of complaints each year, gathers data, and warns consumers about dangerous products. It also monitors elder-related products, and public facilities and associated products, such as shopping carts. While most complaints are about motor vehicles and pharmaceutical-related products, other categories with high numbers of complaints include chemicals (fuel, lighter, and fireworks); furniture and decor; kitchen and dining; home maintenance and construction; sports and recreation; and toys and children’s products.
Richmond Wrongful Death FAQIf you lost a loved one because of someone else’s careless, reckless, or intentional actions in Richmond—whether it happened in a motor vehicle collision, an accidental fall, or because of a medical professional’s negligence—then you may recover compensation through a wrongful death action. Grieving families often have lots of questions about those rights. Below, we answer some common questions we hear from them. If you want to know more, a skilled Richmond wrongful death attorney can help.
How long do I have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Richmond?For deaths that occurred in Virginia, you usually have two years from the death of your loved one to file a wrongful death action. To avoid impairing your rights, seek the advice of an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as you can. A skilled attorney can take the steps necessary to preserve your claim and to secure important evidence that could otherwise go missing.
How do I sue for wrongful death in Richmond?The personal representative of your loved one’s estate, represented by an experienced wrongful death attorney, files the wrongful death action. If the death is that of a fetus, the mother, if she is alive, files the action with the help of an attorney. You cannot realistically file a wrongful death action on your own. You need a skilled, experienced wrongful death attorney representing you to give yourself the best possible chance of recovering the compensation you and your family deserve.
What if my loved one died in a work-related accident in Richmond?You and your family likely have the right to receive death benefits under the workers’ compensation insurance policy that covered your loved one. A wrongful death attorney can help you apply for those benefits. In addition, you may seek additional compensation through a wrongful death action against a third party (someone other than your loved one’s employer or co-worker). For example, if your loved one died because of the malfunction of a defective piece of work equipment, then the equipment manufacturer may owe damages for your loved one’s death. A skilled wrongful death lawyer can advise you and your family about the potential sources of compensation you may have the right to seek.
What damages can I get in a wrongful death action?Every case is different. However, generally speaking, a Richmond wrongful death action can seek damages that include:
- Compensation for the reasonably expected loss of income from the loved one who died and the services, protection, care, and assistance provided by that loved one;
- Expenses for the care, treatment, and hospitalization of the loved one who has died in connection with the injury that resulted in death;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace, such as loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice of the loved one who has died; and
- In some cases, punitive damages when the death resulted from willful or wanton conduct, or from recklessness that reflects a conscious disregard for the safety of others. For example, a court or jury may award punitive damages when a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, or when your loved one was the victim of a violent crime.
How long does a wrongful death case take in Richmond?It depends on:
- The number of parties involved;
- The availability of evidence;
- The degree of dispute over who has liability for your loved one’s death, or the appropriate amount of damages; and
- Court schedules and other administrative issues.
How do I get a wrongful death settlement?A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal claim for damages. In a typical settlement, the party at fault pays the injured person money in exchange for the injured person agreeing to end a lawsuit and/or give up the right to sue for damages in the future. Under Virginia law, a court must approve the settlement of a wrongful death claim, regardless of whether you filed a lawsuit. The parties cannot settle a wrongful death claim on their own. Typically, the parties present the proposed settlement to the court, and explain to the court why they believe it should approve the settlement.
Who receives the money from a wrongful death case?Virginia law provides a hierarchy for distributing the money recovered in a wrongful death case. Surviving spouses and dependent children typically receive money first, ahead of other family members. In a disagreement over how money should get distributed, a family can apply to a court to resolve the dispute.
When should I contact a Richmond wrongful death lawyer?We understand that talking to a lawyer might not rise to the top of your list of priorities after the untimely, tragic death of your loved one. However, having an initial consultation with a lawyer might represent the most important step you can take to protect your family’s legal and financial interests. The sooner you take that all-important step, the less risk you run of losing valuable rights to compensation for your loss. A lawyer can take any necessary action to prevent your rights from expiring, and can begin to collect evidence to support an eventual claim on your and your family’s behalf.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Richmond, VirginiaIf you have lost a loved one because of the negligence or recklessness of someone else, we may be able to help. The compassionate and dedicated legal team at Emroch & Kilduff work hard to get the possible outcomes for every case. Contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer Emroch & Kilduff at (804) 358-1568 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.
Emroch & Kilduff 3600 W Broad St #700 Richmond, VA 23230 Phone: (804) 358-1568