The below information was written by our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach.
In Virginia, lawsuits for wrongful death are brought by and in the name of the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person, not in the name of the deceased person and not in the name of the deceased person’s estate. When a person dies as a result of a car accident, a wrongful death lawsuit can be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate against the person or persons responsible for the accident that resulted in the death of the decedent. Any amount awarded in the wrongful death lawsuit or any settlement of the wrongful death lawsuit is paid to the statutorily prescribed beneficiaries. According to the Virginia Code, there are classes of beneficiaries in wrongful death actions, and amounts recovered in wrongful death actions are distributed to the beneficiaries as follows:
(i) the surviving spouse, children of the deceased and children of any deceased child of the deceased or (ii) if there be none such, then to the parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased, and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (iii) if the decedent has left both surviving spouse and parent or parents, but no child or grandchild, the award shall be distributed to the surviving spouse and such parent or parents or (iv) if there are survivors under clause (i) or clause (iii), the award shall be distributed to those beneficiaries and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (v) if no survivors exist under clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), the award shall be distributed in the course of descents as provided for in § 64.2-200. Provided, however, no parent whose parental rights and responsibilities have been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction or pursuant to a permanent entrustment agreement with a child welfare agency shall be eligible as a beneficiary under this section. For purposes of this section, a relative is any person related to the decedent by blood, marriage, or adoption and also includes a stepchild of the decedent.
The doctrine of contributory negligence applies in wrongful death cases. To learn more about the contributory negligence doctrine in Virginia, click here. If a beneficiary is found to be contributorily negligent for the death of the decedent, then the contributorily negligent beneficiary cannot share in the distribution of the damages. If the decedent is found to have been contributorily negligent, then all of the beneficiaries are barred from recovery.
As far as the damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death action, the judge or jury hearing the case may award such damages as seem fair and just. According to the Virginia Model Jury Instructions, such damages may include, but are not limited to, compensation to the beneficiaries for the following:
(1) any sorrow, mental anguish, and loss of solace suffered by the beneficiaries. Solace may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices, and advice of the decedent;
(2) any reasonably expected loss of services, protection, care, and assistance which the decedent provided to the beneficiaries;
(3) any reasonably expected loss of services, protection, care, and assistance which the descendent provided to the beneficiaries;
(4) any expenses for the care, treatment, and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in his or her death; and
(5) reasonable funeral expenses.
If the defendant’s conduct evidenced a conscious disregard for the safety of others, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the defendant for his or her conduct and to prevent others from acting in a similar way.
Questions regarding liability, proper beneficiaries, damages, contributory negligence, etc. are specific to the facts of the individual wrongful death case, and we encourage you to contact one of our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach. We can determine who the wrongful death claim should be brought against, who is entitled to compensation for the wrongful death, and what the beneficiaries can properly seek recovery for in the wrongful death claim. Settlements of wrongful death claims must be approved by the Court, and an experienced personal injury lawyer can assist the prospective client in obtaining the necessary court approval. An experienced personal injury lawyer can also advise the beneficiaries as to the value of the wrongful death claim, can guide the beneficiaries through the process of making a wrongful death claim with the applicable insurance company or companies, and can represent the personal representative of the decedent’s estate and the beneficiaries in the litigation of the wrongful death claim, if a wrongful death lawsuit becomes necessary.
Waiting can hurt your case. To find out how our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach can help you, please contact us at (757) 486-2700.