You can file a wrongful death claim for compensation when you lose a loved one. But how do you prove a wrongful death claim? We provided the answer in this article.
The effects can be devastating when a family member or loved one dies due to someone else’s negligent actions. Though nothing can bring them back, you can get sufficient financial compensation with the help of a Richmond wrongful death lawyer.
Accidental deaths are the top cause of death in the US for people under 50. Family members usually experience financial, emotional, and even physical burdens when these deaths occur.
When you suspect foul play in the death of a loved one, the appropriate legal action is filing a wrongful death claim. But, first, you must fully understand all it takes to win your wrongful death case.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
Not all deaths occur due to natural causes. Sometimes, a person may pass away due to another person’s actions in the form of carelessness, neglect, or violence.
A wrongful death claim is a legal action against the at-fault party for being legally responsible for another person’s death. So, the deceased person’s family and other beneficiaries seek justice and receive financial compensation.
When damages occur due to wrongful death, the at-fault party’s insurance company compensates the victim’s family or other claimants. But, not all accidental deaths will be eligible for a wrongful death claim. So, it’s crucial to understand what wrongful death means before preparing a case.
The Meaning of “Wrongful Death” According to Virginia Law
Under the Virginia wrongful death statute, when a person dies because of another person’s negligence or intentionally harmful conduct, it is wrongful death. If the victim were alive, they could have sued the faulty party for damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
However, the victim is dead and cannot bring legal action against anyone. So, the family members or entitled dependents can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
There are several common causes of wrongful death lawsuits. Each of these cases will require the same basic four elements to prove wrongful death. Some of the more common reasons for a wrongful death claim include:
- Abuse and neglect at assisted living facilities, e.g., nursing home
- Accidents during supervised activities such as adult care, daycare, and field trips
- Birth injuries
- Criminal activities like shootings, stabbings, or other acts of violence
- Defective or malfunctioning products
- Medical negligence or malpractice
- Commercial truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, and other auto accidents
- Workplace accidents, occupational hazards, and other negligent exposure to injury or harm
Critical Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
There are four essential elements to defining a wrongful death claim: negligence, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Proving these elements is vital to establishing a valid legal claim.
Duty of Care
In a wrongful death case, claimants must establish a connection between the death of their loved one and the defendant’s unlawful actions. You must show the existence of a duty of care between the victim and the at-fault party.
A wrongful death claim will result in a civil lawsuit, not a criminal one. So, establishing negligence is crucial to winning this type of case.
Examples of duty of care include:
- Health care providers delivering the prevailing standard of care to their patients
- Road users complying with traffic laws and regulations by road users
- Manufacturers ensuring their products are safe for consumers and warning them of any side effects
Breach of Duty
Breach of duty means that the at-fault party behaved contrary to a duty of care owed to the deceased person. These actions could occur through negligence and, in some cases, with intent in the form of abuse, carelessness, neglect, or recklessness.
- An automobile driver taking calls or texting while driving on the road
- A manufacturer that sells a poorly-tested or defective product
- A medical care provider, e.g., a doctor, hospital, or nursing home that abuses or neglects a patient in their care
However, establishing a breach of duty of care will depend on the identifiable facts. This element will determine precisely the responsible party for the demise of the deceased person. In addition, claimants will need to verify that the victim’s actions did not, in any form, contribute to their death.
It’s not enough to prove a breach of duty on the defendant’s part. In a wrongful death case, claimants must prove how the defendant’s unlawful actions resulted in the death of a loved one or family member.
To prove causation, you must gather convincing evidence and leverage the knowledge of scientific or technical professionals to establish sufficient facts. The stronger the evidence, the stronger the case.
Furthermore, the claim’s success depends on the proof of the victim’s demise resulting in measurable damages. These wrongful death damages would refer to any quantifiable losses claimable by the plaintiff in a personal injury case if they were still alive.
Virginia wrongful death laws allow a deceased person’s family or estate to receive compensation on behalf of the victim for these economic and non-economic losses. The following are damages you can claim for wrongful death:
- Costs of hospital visits and medical expenses before the victim’s death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of companionship, comfort, consortium, guidance,
- Loss of inheritance, support, and training
- Loss of household services
- Loss of the deceased person’s income and other employment benefits
- Loss of potential earnings attributed to the victim
- Pain and suffering of the victim before their death
- Sorrow and mental anguish of surviving beneficiaries
If there is proof of wanton conduct and gross negligence by the defendant, the court will grant punitive damages to serve as a punishment and deterrent.
Essentially, a wrongful death claim must establish proof using the abovementioned points. The claims process may lead to settlement negotiations or a court hearing. You may also need professionals to testify in proving wrongful death. A Richmond wrongful death lawyer can help you gather substantial evidence to file a legitimate claim.
Sources of Evidence for Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
Getting solid or convincing evidence is the foundation of proof in a wrongful death case. Examples of the numerous forms of relevant evidence are:
- Accident reports in the case of a motor vehicle accident
- An arrest or criminal conviction of the defendant
- Cell phone records
- Photos or videos of the accident scene
- Reports from law enforcement authorities, e.g., police
- Witness statements
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
After unjustly losing a family member, you and your loved ones may struggle with grief, emotional exhaustion, and a lot of pain. However, the law allows you to get justice on their behalf to help maintain your financial stability, especially when you were dependent on the deceased.
Filing a wrongful death claim is an essential first step. However, it’ll be helpful to reach out to a Richmond wrongful death lawyer instead of doing it yourself. Also, there’s a time limit to prepare your case and state your claim. In Virginia, the Statute of Limitations for wrongful death is two years.
Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?
Virginia law states that statutory beneficiaries can file a claim for a wrongful death settlement. These persons refer to family members or dependents legally eligible to recover damages in wrongful death suits.
So, when a person dies unjustly, the following people may sue the fault party:
- Spouse and children (including adopted children) of the deceased victim (or grandchildren where applicable)
- Parent, sibling, or relative of the deceased person who:
- Was in any form dependent on the decedent or
- is a member of the victim’s household, and
- was responsible for raising the deceased person in the case of a child
- Surviving family members eligible by Virginia law to inherit the deceased person’s estate
- Parent(s) of the deceased, if the victim was an unborn child
Note that there’s an order of succession in filing a wrongful death lawsuit. The victim’s spouse or child should bring the initial legal action. Without a surviving spouse or child (or even grandchildren), the deceased person’s surviving parents, siblings, or dependents can file for wrongful death.
Where none of the abovementioned people survive the victim, any other person entitled to the victim’s estate can make a case to recover damages.
Compensation and Negotiation Settlement in Wrongful Death Claims
In a wrongful death claim, the at-fault party’s insurance provider is responsible for reimbursing the claimants for financial costs and other quantifiable burdens. In some cases, there may be out-of-court negotiations between all the involved parties instead of going to trial. But, on the other hand, the court may have to award reasonable compensation to the claimant(s).
Some factors affect the potential financial benefits from a wrongful death action. They include the following:
The potential settlement will depend on the available insurance coverage of the defendant. The insurance company will only offer compensation up to the coverage limit. You may not recover damages if the policy limit is insufficient or non-existent.
Degree of Damages
The value of a wrongful death claim also depends on the extent of damages. No surviving children or an insignificant amount of lost wages may result in low compensation.
Fault or Liability
Furthermore, the insurance company or court will consider the degree of the defendant’s fault or liability. As pure contributory negligence is the rule in Virginia, the responsible party must be 100% liable while the victim is entirely innocent.
Despite these factors, consulting a Richmond wrongful death lawyer can help you on your path to justice.
Need Professional Legal Help? Contact a Richmond Wrongful Death Lawyer
The death of a loved one can be traumatic, especially when the cause of death is another person’s negligent or wrongful actions. In addition to medical bills, there would be funeral expenses, possible loss of income, and other adverse effects.
But, you can exercise your legal right to damage recovery. Our legal team at CAIL can assist with your claim to enable you to get fair compensation. So, reach out to a Richmond wrongful death lawyer today for a free case review.