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The last thing on any grieving family member’s mind is filing a lawsuit when their loved one has suffered fatal injuries due to the wrongful acts, malpractice, or negligence of another person or entity. However, while there is certainly no amount of money that can compensate for the loss of someone you love, it can help pay for expenses related to that loss and help the deceased’s family start to move forward without unexpected or unnecessary financial hardship. Wrongful death in Manassas is stressful for any family, so it is important to hire an experienced and compassionate wrongful death lawyer.
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Understanding Wrongful Death Law in Virginia
When a person is killed or dies due to the misconduct or negligence of another person, the victim’s surviving loved ones may sue for wrongful death. Most lawsuits follow in the wake of criminal trials and use similar evidence but require a lower standard of proof. However, someone who is found liable for a wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime that is associated with that death. A wrongful death lawyer will be able to review your case and help you determine whether you should file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Essentially, the wrongful death statute permits certain beneficiaries to pursue the monetary expenses incurred from the death, similar to the way an injured victim would seek the same compensation in their own personal injury lawsuit.
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Damages Available in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Because every case is different, it is impossible to know exactly what damages you may be able to recover in your wrongful death claim without consulting with an attorney.
That being said, most people who file wrongful death claims seek compensation for:
- Funeral costs
- Financial losses, including assistance, care, protection, expected loss of services, and loss of income
- Emotional losses, such as the loss of companionship, advice, society, guidance, and comfort of the deceased
If a liable party is found to have caused the death through wanton or willful conduct or recklessness that shows a conscious disregard for other people’s safety, the deceased person’s beneficiaries may be able to pursue punitive damages.
Often, in wrongful death lawsuits, experts are asked to determine a monetary value for the financial losses that were sustained by the survivors or family of the deceased person. The economists do not only evaluate the economic losses that stem from the loss of earnings but also those losses that result from reductions in the deceased’s ability to perform non-labor market services, which include taking care of the household. If permitted by a court, the statistics-based and mathematically based models that economists use can also be used to help the court evaluate the issues involving the loss of life or loss of enjoyment.
The case of Shepard v. Capitol Foundry of Va. is notable in that evidence showed that a spouse suffered both loss and emotional hardship when he lost his wife. The plaintiff described to the court how he would have to prepare and eat his meals alone and how, during three decades of service in the military, the plaintiff’s wife handled all the family’s business concerns, something she had continued to do even after the husband retired. The plaintiff went on to describe how he frequently visited his wife’s grave, and their children testified regarding their loss of their mother and the close relationship they had with her.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia
Under state laws, “wrongful death” is defined as a death caused either in an immediate or in a delayed manner by the misconduct or negligence of a person, organization, company, or group of individuals.
When a loved one dies, the complexities of the legal claim against a liable party can be daunting. It is an emotional and stressful time for the survivors, which is why the best course of action is to seek the assistance of our experienced Manassas wrongful death lawyers. We can guide you through the legalities of your claim in an effort to help you obtain the best possible compensation for your loss.
Some of the kinds of damages suffered by spouses, parents, and children of the deceased may include:
- Medical bills
- Grief and anguish
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of consortium, or trauma to a marital relationship
- Punitive damages that might be recovered for reckless or willful conduct
- Loss of protection, assistance, care, services, and income that were provided by the deceased person
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Statute of Limitations for Filing Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Virginia
State law requires that wrongful death claims be filed within two years of the date of the person’s death. If a claim is not filed within that statute of limitations, the state bars the claim from being heard in a court.
Who Is Entitled to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In the state, a wrongful death claim can be filed by one or more of the deceased person’s statutory beneficiaries. According to Virginia law, statutory beneficiaries are defined as those family members or dependents of the deceased person who can legally recover a wrongful death claim.
Such family members may include:
- The deceased person’s surviving spouse and children or any surviving grandchildren
- The deceased’s surviving siblings and parents or anyone related to the deceased person who shares the deceased person’s household and is considered a dependent
- Any of the deceased’s surviving family members who are permitted to inherit his or her estate under intestacy laws
Under local wrongful death laws, the right to file a claim of wrongful death follows a particular order. First surviving spouses, then surviving children, and then surviving grandchildren have the right to file a claim. If there is no surviving child, grandchild, or spouse, the surviving siblings, dependents, and/or parents can file a wrongful death claim. If there is no surviving sibling, parent, or dependent, whoever would inherit next according to estate law has a right to file a claim.
It’s important to note that, if there is a surviving parent and spouse but there are no surviving children, the parent and spouse are entitled to file the claim of wrongful death jointly. If a parent is found to have abandoned the deceased person during their childhood, however, that parent does not have the right to file a wrongful death claim, and he or she is not entitled to recover any such damages. For the purposes of filing a wrongful death claim, a “relative” is determined to be any individual who is related to the deceased by marriage, blood, or adoption, including stepchildren of the deceased.
The class and beneficiaries of the deceased who are eligible to receive the distribution of funds will be fixed at the time that the verdict is entered, should the jury make such specifications, or at the time that the judgment is handed down, if the court takes the decision to specify the distribution.
It is worth noting that a beneficiary has the right to renounce his or her interest in any claim that is brought and, in such cases, the damages will then be distributed to the beneficiaries who fall within the same class as the renouncing beneficiary. If there are none, damages will to any subsequent class in the order of priority mentioned above.
Virginia Code 8.01-50 sets our action for death by a wrongful act and how and when such action is to be brought. The code states:
When a person’s death is caused by the neglect, wrongful act, or default or any corporation or person, or of any vessel or ship, and the act, default, or neglect is such that, if the death had not occurred, would have entitled the injured person to take action against the vessel, ship, or person, or owners thereof, and recover damages in respect of the injury, then the liable party, had death not occurred, are liable to an action for damages. Such liable parties, in the event of death, may be held responsible for a felony.
Every action under the Code must be brought by and in the name of the deceased person’s representative within the stated statute of limitations.
If the deceased was an infant who was in the custody of a parent regarding a court order or written agreement with the other parent, damages might first be granted to the parent who had custody of the child. However, that parent is entitled to waive his or her right to qualify; administration will then be granted as in other wrongful death cases.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Manassas
While the above outlines wrongful death cases, below, we explore some of the most commonly asked questions in this regard.
What exactly are punitive damages?
Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant. They might also be available if it can be established through convincing evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice and outrageous indifference to the safety, well-being, and health of other human beings.
Can punitive damages be sought in wrongful death cases?
Yes, in Manassas, punitive damages can be recovered for overly reckless or willful conduct that leads to the death of an individual. However, it must be noted that it is very rare of such damages to be awarded. It’s important to speak to your wrongful death lawyer about punitive damages for your wrongful death lawsuit.
Can wrongful death claims in the state of Virginia be filed on behalf of a senior citizen or a child?
Survivors of a deceased child or senior citizen are entitled to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. But, for a multitude of reasons, the reward for such cases is typically relatively modest.
Can a survivor file a wrongful death claim on behalf of a deceased person who has never held a job?
In short, yes. While the deceased person may not have had a job, he or she may well have contributed to their family in some other way, such as offering advice, companionship, and emotional support.
What are some of the most common causes of wrongful death?
What is the difference between criminal cases and civil cases that are permitted to be brought regarding a wrongful death?
In instances of criminal cases, the government will prosecute any person for an act that it deems to be a crime in the jurisdiction in which it is committed. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt, which means that a guilty verdict will be issued if there is no plausible reason to believe that the defendant is innocent of that with which he or she is charged. Penalties in criminal cases typically include imprisonment and hefty fines. However, civil cases usually involve disputes between individuals over money owed. The burden of proof in this instance is much lower.
What are the elements of a wrongful death claim?
Wrongful death claims may be filed if the deceased person would have been able to file his or her own personal injury claim against the defendant had they not died.
Therefore, the elements of a wrongful death claim are relatively similar to those that have to be established in a personal injury claim and include:
- Negligence or breach of a duty of care
- The existence of duty of care as owed by the defendant to the deceased person
Working with a Wrongful Death Attorney
At Ashcraft & Gerel, our established and experienced wrongful death lawyers understand the pain that loved ones are going through after a loss. While we are not under the impression that pursuing compensation via a lawsuit will replace that loss, we believe that holding negligent individuals or parties accountable when their actions resulted in death is important. Furthermore, financial support can be hugely beneficial for those who need to move ahead in life.
If you have lost someone unexpectedly, Ashcraft & Gerel can help you through the daunting litigation process and work to recover the compensation you deserve. Talk to our wrongful death lawyer today about your case.