Virginia Wrongful Death Attorneys
Wrongful Death Statutes in Virginia
There is simply nothing more painful than losing someone you love tragically and unexpectedly. When someone else is responsible for the incident that led to your loved one’s death, you deserve justice—and the law is on your side.
By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you can not only seek compensation for unexpected financial burdens resulting from your loss, but you can also pursue justice against the liable party. At Reinhardt | Harper | Davis, we know that no amount of compensation can undo the devastating loss you and your family have endured, but we have also seen firsthand how a successful wrongful death settlement or verdict can provide individuals with a much-needed sense of closure, allowing them to move forward with their lives without having to worry about additional financial difficulties.
If someone you love recently passed away due to the negligent or wrongful conduct of another, we extend our most sincere condolences.
We also invite you to reach out to our firm today to learn how our Virginia wrongful death attorneys can help you and your family hold the liable party accountable and fight for the fair compensation you are owed.
Defining “Wrongful Death” in Virginia
Virginia law defines wrongful death as the death of an individual resulting from the “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another person or party. In general, a death is considered “wrongful” in Virginia if the person who passed away (known as the “decedent”) would have been entitled to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit had he or she lived.
Various accidents and events can give rise to wrongful death claims, including:
- Negligence-based incidents, such as car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Acts of violence, including a variety of crimes
It is worthwhile to note that wrongful death claims are different from criminal homicide prosecutions. A wrongful death claim falls under civil litigation and is entirely separate from any criminal proceedings that may (or may not) take place. The outcome of a criminal prosecution against the party sued for wrongful death does not necessarily affect the outcome of the wrongful death lawsuit.
One well-known example is the case of O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted for two counts of murder but later found liable for wrongful death and ordered to pay more than $70 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
One reason an individual may be acquitted, or found not guilty, in a homicide case while also being found liable for wrongful death is because there is a much lower burden of proof in civil litigation cases. While a defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to be convicted of murder or a similar criminal charge, the plaintiff in a civil wrongful death lawsuit must only prove that the defendant was more likely than not to have caused the death. In other words, the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s liability with a 51 percent degree of certainty.
Can Anyone File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia?
Virginia limits who may file a wrongful death lawsuit to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. This means that a surviving family member or friend may not file a claim, unless they are also the designated executor of the estate. If the decedent passed away without a will, the court will appoint someone to act as the personal representative.
Although the personal representative must be the one to bring the wrongful death action, damages are sought on behalf of the decedent’s surviving:
- Spouse and children
If there is no surviving spouse or child, damages are sought on behalf of surviving grandchildren; if there is no surviving spouse, child, or grandchild, damages are sought on behalf of surviving parents and/or siblings, as well as any surviving relative who lived with the decedent and was dependent on him or her in life.
If none of these individuals exist (or are living), damages are sought on behalf of any surviving family member who is entitled to inherit a portion of the decedent’s estate according to Virginia intestate succession laws.
Types of Damages Available in Virginia Wrongful Death Cases
While every case is different, certain damages are typically available in wrongful death cases in Virginia.
- Medical expenses related to caring for the decedent’s final injury or illness
- “Reasonable” (as defined by law) funeral and/or burial expenses
- Mental anguish, distress, and sorrow experienced by the plaintiff
- Loss of expected income, wages, and benefits, including future earnings
- The reasonable value of services and support provided by the decedent
- Loss of advice, comfort, companionship, guidance, and society provided by the decedent
- Loss of the decedent’s assistance, care, and protection
Sometimes, plaintiffs are also entitled to punitive damages. These damages are meant to punish defendants who have acted with gross negligence or willful/wanton conduct that reveals “a conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
At Reinhardt | Harper | Davis, we are committed to maximizing our clients’ recoveries and obtaining the full, fair compensation they are owed. Our Virginia wrongful death attorneys can discuss the specific details of your case during a free and confidential consultation.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia?
In most cases, the statute of limitations on wrongful death cases in Virginia is two years. The clock begins running on the date of death, not necessarily the date of the accident or incident that ultimately led to the individual’s death. In most cases, if a lawsuit is not filed within two years, the court will dismiss the case.
We encourage you to reach out to us right away if your family member recently died due to the negligent or wrongful conduct of another.
We know that taking legal action is likely the furthest thing from your mind, but the sooner you get in touch with our compassionate and experienced attorneys, the sooner they can begin investigating your claim and building a powerful case on your behalf. We are here to help you fight for justice.