Helping Virginia families move forward after a tragic loss
Virginia law allows the statutory beneficiaries of a wrongful death victim to seek and obtain justice and recover monetary compensation for the death. Phelan Petty is here to help families protect themselves in the wake of an unexpected loss. Our Richmond wrongful death attorneys have successfully represented families throughout Virginia. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help
Get Your Case Evaluation
What is wrongful death?
In Virginia, wrongful death is the death caused by the willful, negligent, or wrongful action, neglect, or default of another party (Virginia Code § 8.01-50). Lawsuits for wrongful death are designed to provide the beneficiaries of the decedent compensation for their losses.
A wrongful death case must have the same type of evidentiary support that a personal injury case would have, had the decedent survived. As such, a wrongful death claim in Virginia can be viewed as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer able to file his or her own lawsuit.
The process for filing a wrongful death claim in Virginia
Per Virginia Code § 8.01-50, a wrongful death claim can be brought by a personal representative of the estate of the decedent. The representative is the person who controls the decedent’s estate. If the decedent left a will naming an executor, that person would be the personal representative. If there is no named personal representative, under Virginia Code § 64.2-454, “An administrator may be appointed in any case in which it is represented that either a civil action for personal injury or death by wrongful act, or both, arising within the Commonwealth… by the clerk of the circuit court in the county or city in which jurisdiction and venue would have been properly laid for such actions.”
What damages are recoverable in a wrongful death action?
Virginia does not impose limits on the level of compensatory damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. The jury in a wrongful death action will be instructed to award damages as may seem fair and just, and its verdict shall include, but may not be limited to, damages for the following:
- Sorrow, mental anguish and loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance and advice of the decedent;
- Compensation for loss of income of the decedent and services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent;
- Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent relating to the injury resulting in his or her death;
- Funeral expenses; and
- Punitive damages may be recoverable if the defendant’s actions rise to the level of willful or wanton conduct, or such recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others. (Virginia Code 8.01-52)
Who are the beneficiaries?
The damages awarded pursuant to § 8.01-53 shall be distributed to:
- the surviving spouse, children of the deceased and children of any deceased child of the deceased, and the parents of the decedent if any of such parents, within 12 months prior to the decedent's death, regularly received support or regularly received services from the decedent for necessaries, including living expenses, food, shelter, health care expenses, or in-home assistance or care, or
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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. (Virginia Code § 8.01-53)
The above list of potential statutory beneficiaries reflects the specific order under Virginia law concerning who is entitled to the distribution of funds awarded in a wrongful death action. If a loved one does not fall under the definition of beneficiary in § 8.01-53, then he or she is not entitled to a recovery under Virginia’s wrongful death statutes
How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim in Virginia?
Under Virginia law, the personal representative of the estate of the decedent must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the date of the decedent’s death. The court will not hear a wrongful death claim beyond this statute of limitations.
Every wrongful death lawsuit has its own unique set of evidence and circumstances that an experienced and skilled attorney must be able to navigate in the most effective manner possible to achieve best results for the client.