When Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Night shot of a firefighters working on serious traffic accident scene with upside down car, fire engine in background.

The Virginia Wrongful Death Act provides the right to bring a civil action for wrongful death in specific circumstances. The statute establishes the process for a wrongful death lawsuit, defines the damages, and specifies who receives the compensation. Since a wrongful death action must follow the requirements of the law, assistance from an experienced personal injury lawyer is crucial in pursuing a wrongful death claim.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

Under the Wrongful Death Act, a civil action for wrongful death can be brought when a person or corporation causes the death of another person by “wrongful act, neglect, or default,” if the injured person would have been entitled to bring a personal injury action if death had not occurred. In this context, a wrongful act generally requires negligence or an intentional act as the cause of death.

Wrongful death may occur in many different circumstances. Auto accidents and other traffic accidents are a common cause, but defective products, medical malpractice, and other types of accidents can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit.

Work-related injuries may also create the right to bring a wrongful death action, if a third party (not the worker’s employer or co-employee) caused the injuries. In that situation, the wrongful death action is in addition to death benefits provided by workers’ compensation.

Who Files the Lawsuit?

The statute requires a wrongful death action to be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative is the person appointed by the court to administer the estate. For the death of an unborn child, the natural mother files the action. If the mother is also deceased, initiation of the action is governed by specific provisions in the law.

What Is the Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The Wrongful Death Act provides that damages may include reimbursement or compensation for:

  • Sorrow, mental anguish, solace, and loss of companionship, comfort, and guidance
  • Loss of future income and services provided by the decedent
  • Medical and funeral expenses of the deceased
  • Punitive damages for willful or wanton conduct, or recklessness evincing a conscious disregard for the safety of others

Proving the damages in a wrongful death action is one of the most important reasons to have representation by a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. Calculating the compensation is a complex task that requires an understanding of what types of damages are allowed and how those amounts are computed.

Who Receives the Compensation?

Complex provisions determine distribution of the monetary award in a wrongful death case. The law specifies an order of priority for beneficiaries of the deceased person who receive damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. The first order of priority includes the surviving spouse, children (including adopted children and stepchildren), and children of a deceased child. Parents who received financial support or services may also receive compensation in this category.

If there is a surviving spouse and parent(s) but no children or children of a deceased child, the award is divided between the surviving spouse and parents. If there is not a surviving spouse, children, or children of a deceased child, the decedent’s parents, siblings, and any financially dependent relatives receive the compensation.

Multiple beneficiaries in the same category may recover different amounts, based on specific factors listed in the statute. In some cases, beneficiaries agree on the division of compensation. In other cases, the judge or jury determines division of the award.

Why Do You Need a Lawyer for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

As previously mentioned, the provisions of the Virginia Wrongful Death Act are extremely complicated. Applying them to a specific case requires specialized knowledge and skill that comes from having legal experience with wrongful death and personal injury cases. Navigating a wrongful death claim likely also involves negotiating with the liability insurance company of the at-fault party, which is a task you should never undertake on your own.

To recover in a wrongful death lawsuit, you need to prove that the defendant’s negligence or intentional conduct caused the deceased person’s death. Your lawyer conducts an investigation into the accident and an analysis of the cause of the accident and injuries, then compiles the evidence to demonstrate the legal liability of the defendant.

An experienced wrongful death attorney also knows how to calculate damages under the law to maximize the financial recovery for family members. Determining the beneficiaries entitled to receive the compensation, and each person’s share of the compensation, also require a detailed understanding of the law. While the award in a wrongful death case cannot bring back your loved one, it can provide financial security for you and your family well into the future. You want to make certain that you and other family members receive the full amount provided by the law.

Our accomplished lawyers at Renfro & Renfro have the experience, knowledge, and skills to guide you through a wrongful death claim. You can count on us to help you recover the compensation you deserve under Virginia law.

Under the Act, a wrongful death action must be filed within two years following a person’s death. It’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you and your family members do not lose any of the rights provided by the Virginia statute.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with our Richmond Wrongful Death Lawyers

If you lost a family member because of another person’s negligent or intentional action and may be entitled to compensation under the Virginia Wrongful Death Act, our wrongful death lawyers at Renfro & Renfro invite you to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.

We serve clients in the Greater Richmond Region, including in Petersburg and Dinwiddie, and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. We welcome you to schedule a consultation by using our online form or calling (804) 601-4433.


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