When a loved one dies because of another’s fault, the emotional pain is worse for the surviving family members. At the same time, the family may go through financial challenges following the wrongful death of an earning member. Virginia law enables the deceased’s family in these cases to hold the at-fault party liable for damages arising from the wrongful death. Virginia Code § 8.01-52 sets forth the types of damages that could be recovered in these cases.
Types of Recoverable Damages
The courts in Virginia can award “fair and just” compensation to the victim’s family members in a wrongful death case. No cap on legal damages (except in case of punitive damages) has been provided under the law for wrongful death suits, unless the death occurred because of medical malpractice. The recoverable damages may include:
- Costs of medical treatment and hospital bills
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of income (where the surviving family members depended on the deceased’s income)
- Pain and suffering related to losing a loved one, and the loss of comfort, companionship, and guidance.
- Punitive damages in case of extreme recklessness on part of the wrongdoer
Determining the Actual Damages
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the court in Virginia may distribute damages arising from the loss of services, loss of income and pain and suffering as it sees fit to every individual surviving family member who has named in the lawsuit. The court will specifically state the damages for medical costs, funeral expenses, and punitive damages. Medical costs and funeral expenses will be apportioned to the service providers directly.
The court may admit expert testimonies to determine the loss of services and loss of income when computing the appropriate compensation amount. In other words, the court may consider the professional opinion of an adjuster or another competent expert who may testify as to what in their view would be the total future loss of services and wages of the decedent.
Survival Claims for Damages in Virginia
In many jurisdictions, the surviving family members in wrongful death cases can file a lawsuit and recover damages both for themselves and for the decedent. But this is not so in Virginia. In Virginia, the family may only file a wrongful death claim for their own damages, and not on behalf of the decedent. The law in Virginia is clear that in a death resulting from another’s negligence, only the surviving family members of the deceased may claim damages.
Another legal nuance in Virginia is that a personal injury claim can “survive” the victim’s passing. What this means is that if a victim gets injured because of the negligence of another person and dies later on from a cause unrelated to that injury, a personal injury lawsuit may still be brought even though the victim has died.
The administrator of the decedent’s estate can file a claim to recover economic and non-economic damages on the victim’s behalf. However, a wrongful death claim cannot be filed in this case because the death did not occur because of the injuries sustained.
Wrongful Death Damages Cap in Medical Malpractice Cases
If a wrongful death occurs in Virginia because of medical malpractice, the surviving family members may recover damages only up to a limit. Virginia law has placed a cap of $2 million on the amount of compensation that may be recovered in these cases. This limit includes all economic and non-economic damages, including medical costs, funeral expenses, loss of future income, and pain and suffering.
Even if a jury awards damages exceeding $2 million, the court will reduce the award to the cap limit, no matter if the actual damages of the surviving family members are higher than the cap amount. The victim’s family in medical malpractice wrongful death cases should take this rule into consideration while they are trying to determine the value of their claim.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia?
Virginia Code § 8.01-53 defines the “statutory beneficiaries” who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state. These dependents or family members of the decedent, who can legally recover damages in a wrongful death claim include:
- Surviving spouse as well as children or grandchildren of the decedent
- Surviving parents and siblings, or any other relative who lives in the decedent’s household and has been a dependent of the decedent
- Surviving family members who are entitled under the state’s intestacy laws to inherit the decedent’s estate
Choose a Trusted and Compassionate Wrongful Death Lawyer
At Shapiro, Appleton, Washburn & Sharp, our dedicated Virginia wrongful death lawyers will help you hold the at-fault parties liable for their negligence in order to maximize your recovery.
We understand the loss of a loved one can never be fulfilled, but we can assist you with the legal process to ensure that the rights of all surviving members are fully protected under the law. We can provide you a free, confidential and thorough case review. Call us at 800-752-0042 to schedule a consultation with our attorneys.