Virginia Wrongful Death Laws

When you lose a loved one because of someone else’s actions, it can be difficult to figure out what your next steps should be. You might have assumed that the state was going to press criminal charges, but this may not always be the case. 

Regardless of whether criminal charges are filed, you may be able to take justice into your own hands by filing a civil claim against the individual or entity who is at fault for your loved one’s passing. You might need the help of a wrongful death lawyer to get the most out of your claim and understand how the process works. 

While you wait to get started on your case, you can continue reading to learn more about what a wrongful death lawsuit is, who has the authority to file a claim in Virginia, and what you could expect to be awarded if you win your case. 

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death lawsuit is different from any criminal charges that might be filed against the liable party. In order to file a wrongful death claim, you will need to be able to show that your family member’s death was caused by the wrongful actions of another. 

It doesn’t matter whether they were intending to cause your loved one’s death or if it happened accidentally. What matters is that the accused party’s actions caused your family member’s death. And if it wasn’t for these actions, your loved one may still be with you today. 

Criminal court is different. These are handled entirely by the state. The prosecuting attorney will need to prove based on a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is guilty in order to obtain a conviction. But in civil court, your lawyer will work to prove based on a preponderance of the evidence that the accused party is liable for your loved one’s death.

If the at-fault party is convicted in criminal court, they could face serious legal consequences including fines and imprisonment. But if they are found liable in civil court, they could be ordered to compensate your family. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia

Under Virginia law, only statutory beneficiaries have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Some of the different parties who could be considered statutory beneficiaries include the following:

  • Surviving children and grandchildren
  • Surviving spouse 
  • Surviving parents 
  • Other family members who can inherit the decedent’s estate

If you are not one of the aforementioned parties, you may not have the right to file a wrongful death claim in Virginia. You will need to speak to your lawyer if you have concerns about your authority to file a wrongful death claim. 

Damages You Could Be Awarded

If you have the right to file the wrongful death claim, you will need to take an inventory of the various ways your life has been affected by the untimely loss of your loved one. In Virginia, surviving family members can be compensated for their losses as well as the damage done to the deceased. Some of the different types of losses you could seek to recover in your Virginia wrongful death claim include the following:

  • The decedent’s medical expenses
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The decedent’s lost wages and diminished earning potential
  • Loss of companionship and love
  • Loss of society and support
  • Loss of judgment and guidance
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Emotional distress 

Your family could also be awarded punitive damages depending on the circumstances surrounding the death. This is not commonly awarded in most personal injury cases, but if the liable party’s actions were reprehensible or egregious, the judge may determine that you should be paid punitive damages in addition to your compensatory ones. 

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