When motor vehicle accidents happen, it ends with two separate outcomes. Either the victim survives with injuries, or they pass away from the injuries sustained. When accident victims survive, they can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. When the person dies, their estate representative or family can bring a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. In the latter instance, a Richmond wrongful death lawyer would help recover the available compensation.
What Is a Wrongful Death Under Virginia Law?
Virginia Code section 8.01-50 defines wrongful deaths as a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default to another party. The death circumstances must show that the deceased person would bring a personal injury claim if they had lived.
A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by a statutory beneficiary in Virginia as provided under Virginia Code 8.01-53. A statutory beneficiary is a family member or dependents of the deceased who may, by law, recover damages in a wrongful death claim.
Statutory beneficiaries include the following people:
- The surviving spouse and children or grandchildren of the deceased.
- The surviving parents and siblings of the deceased or any relative who shares the victim’s household and is a dependent of the deceased.
- Any surviving family member who is entitled to inherit the deceased’s estate under the Virginia intestacy laws.
The law states that a surviving spouse or child has the right to file the initial claim for recovery of damages. If the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren, the surviving parents, spouse, grandchild, or dependent can bring the action. If any of the preceding does not survive the victim, then whoever is entitled to inherit next will bring the legal action.
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
To prove wrongful death claims and get a wrongful death settlement, the plaintiff must show:
1. Negligence: Negligence means that the fault party acted recklessly and that recklessness led to the victim’s death. It is the foundation of most civil lawsuits, and the plaintiff must prove it if they hope to win their case.
2. Breach of Duty: The law recognizes a fiduciary relationship between certain groups of people. For example, a fiduciary relationship exists between doctors and their patients, drivers and passengers, and employers and employees. A plaintiff must show that this duty of care existed, and the defendant breached it. They must also show that the breach is the result of the defendant’s negligent actions.
3. Causation: After proving the first two, the plaintiff must link the negligent act and breach of duty to the victim’s death. It means that they must show that the injuries sustained by the victim led to their death. If there were an underlying medical condition that caused the death, a wrongful death claim would not stand. This is why it is vital to hire a Richmond wrongful death attorney. They would help show the link between the negligent act and the victim’s death.
4. Damages: Lastly, the plaintiff must show that they suffered damages from the at-fault party’s negligent act. Damages could be monetary and non-monetary. Monetary in terms of the medical bills accrued while treating the victim before their death, and non-monetary like the mental anguish suffered by relatives.
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff’s wrongful death lawyers must prove all four elements. Doing this requires providing strong and convincing evidence. Some of the preceding would be eyewitness statements and testimony of expert witnesses. A knowledgeable attorney would build the case around the facts provided and ensure you get the maximum settlement.
What Are the Common Causes of Wrongful Death?
There are several causes of wrongful deaths, asides from auto accidents. Each of them would need the four elements discussed above for the victim to get compensation. Some of the common causes of wrongful death include the following:
- Medical Malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Commercial truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Defective products
- Pedestrian accidents
- Boating accident
- Occupational hazards
- Nursing home abuse and neglect
- Criminal actions like stabbing, shooting, and other violent acts
What Are the Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Action in Richmond?
Losing a loved one is a difficult event, and Virginia’s wrongful death statute makes provisions for the financial compensation families can receive. Under the Virginia Code section 8.01-52, the family or estate of a deceased person can recover the following wrongful death damages:
- Sorrow and mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Medical expenses before the victim died
- Loss of income (The value of the deceased person’s lost wages and benefits)
- Loss of guidance
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The deceased person’s pain and suffering before their death
- Loss of companionship
The above falls under the general category of economic damages and non-economic damages. Usually, the insurance company of the fault party pays compensatory damages to the claimants. However, if the victim’s family and the defendant’s attorneys and the insurance company can’t agree, they can file a wrongful death action.
If the court’s ruling favors the plaintiffs, they will grant a fair settlement to cover the above. If there’s proof of wanton conduct and gross negligence by the defendant, the court will grant punitive damages. The latter is awarded as a deterrent to the responsible party and other people. The law provides for it so that other people will exercise due care in similar situations.
What Factors Affect a Settlement Offer for a Wrongful Death Action?
Like in personal injury lawsuits, there is no fixed amount for the settlement families of a wrongful death victim are entitled to. They can get from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands. The wrongful death lawsuit settlement offer is based on the facts of the case and other elements.
Factors that affect compensation benefits include:
The Degree of Damages Suffered
The type of damages suffered by the deceased victim’s family determines the claim value. For instance, if the decedent left behind no children or minors, then the money awarded for parental guidance loss would be less. In the same vein, the amount awarded for lost wages will depend on the amount the victim earned in their lifetime. This is why it is vital to have legal representation. The legal counsel would also ensure you get enough to cover the financial losses caused by the victim’s death.
Fault and Liability
Another consideration in what amounts to fair compensation is the degree of fault and liability of the defendant. In Richmond and other parts of Virginia, the legal system follows the pure contributory negligence rule. It means that the liable party must be 100% responsible, and the victim must have zero faults. If the victim has even 1% liability, their family would be unable to claim. Thus, you will go away empty-handed if your wrongful death lawyer cannot prove on a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s wrongful action led to the victim’s death.
The Insurance Available
The amount of insurance the party responsible for the victim’s death has will determine the settlement offer. It informs the amount the insurance company would offer. Also, even if the jury grants you a higher settlement sum, you might not recover the entire sum if the insurance money doesn’t cover the amount. Furthermore, if the liable party has no insurance and no asset to pay the damages, you will be unable to recover your financial losses.
Richmond Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Help You!
Dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one can be a traumatic experience. Having to deal with the financial burden it brings can worsen things for you. This is why you need our wrongful death attorneys at the CAIL Personal Injury Law firm.
Our experienced attorneys will handle the legal process from start to finish and ensure the defendant’s wrongful conduct doesn’t go unpunished. We work on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t have to pay us until we reach a fair settlement. Start your claim for damages today by scheduling a free consultation with us.