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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A wrongful death claim is made by a family whose loved one has been killed by the negligence or intentional act of another person or company. It is very similar to a personal injury claim, but instead of the harm being a bodily injury, the harm is death.

The main difference between a personal injury case and a wrongful death case is the type of damages that can be sought against the at fault person. In a personal injury case, the attorney is seeking compensation for the person who was hurt for their medical expenses, their lost wages, their pain and suffering, and any permanent disability. In the wrongful death lawsuit, the lawyer is seeking money on behalf of the family for the family’s grief, future loss of the loved one’s care, guidance and companionship, as well as economic losses to the family such as future lost wages for those financially dependent on the person who died, funeral expenses and the value of services rendered to the family by the decedent. The focus of damages in a wrongful death case is on the harm to those left behind as a result of the unexpected loss of their family member.

Under Virginia (VA) law, the family member who has a right to sue for the wrongful death and who controls the litigation is called the personal representative. This person is the executor named in a will, if any, or the person who gets qualified by a Virginia circuit court as the administrator for the estate of someone who dies without a will. The beneficiaries who share the money damage award are determined by a Virginia state statute. This section from the Virginia (VA) Code sets forth which of the relatives are entitled to receive part of the compensation based on their loss, typically including family members like the spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters as provided for in the wrongful death law. Ultimately, the court must approve of how the jury award or settlement is to be divided by the statutory beneficiaries.

Although personal injury cases and wrongful death cases have a lot in common, the wrongful death case is typically a higher dollar claim. This is primarily because of the seriousness of the loss of life, especially of a wage earner whom the family was dependent on in the future. Insurance companies understand that they will have to pay significant sums in the event of a valid wrongful death case. Wrongful death cases can arise in many different settings of negligence, including car wrecks, truck accidents, medical malpractice, products liability cases, boating or hunting accidents, as well as train and airplane crashes.

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