Wrongful death laws in Virginia restrict who might be eligible to file a claim upon the death of a loved one due to someone’s negligence. In many cases, the lawsuit is filed by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate. The personal representative of the estate may be the executor, if the decedent had prepared an estate plan prior to death and named an executor for managing the estate. If no estate plan was created, then the Virginia court will appoint an administrator of the estate to fulfill that role. 

Statutory Beneficiaries can File the Lawsuit

Virginia Code § 8.01-50 as well as portions of Section C and Section D spell out who may be able to bring the action in wrongful death cases. According to the state law, only statutory beneficiaries (defined as the surviving family members of the deceased) are allowed to file a claim for wrongful death. The law has set forth a clear order of priority regarding who can sue.

The law also specifies that the lawsuit cannot be filed in the decedent’s name or directly by the statutory beneficiaries. The personal representative (executor or administrator) of the decedent’s estate files the suit on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries. In Virginia, the statutory beneficiaries may include the following persons.

  • The first right to file the lawsuit belongs to the spouse and children of the decedent. Grandchildren may file the lawsuit if the decedent’s children are deceased.
  • In absence of spouse, children and grandchildren, the decedent’s parents, siblings, and any other dependent relative who is a part of the decedent’s household may file the action for wrongful death.
  • If only the spouse is left, and there are no children or grandchildren, in that case, the spouse as well as the parents of the decedent may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • If the decedent has no family members as listed above, any other family members that are inheritors under the state’s intestacy laws may file a wrongful death claim.

The law also says that if the decedent was an infant who in the parent’s custody, the parent with custody will have the first right to file a wrongful death lawsuit pursuant to an agreement in writing with the other parent or a court order.

Two other issues need to be mentioned here: (a) The individual who has the first right to sue is the person who will choose an attorney to pursue the wrongful death claim (b) The individual who has the right to sue will not determine who has the right to be compensation. In fact, it is not necessary that the individual who files the lawsuit will ultimately receive any part of the settlement or verdict.

Contributory Negligence in Wrongful Death Cases

In Virginia, the legal doctrine of contributory negligence applies in wrongful death cases. If the decedent acted negligently during the accident, and their negligence contributed to their own death, then the beneficiaries of the decedent will not be able to recover damages from the other party involved in the accident, even if that party had also acted negligently and contributed to the decedent’s death.

The rule of contributory negligence will also apply to the beneficiaries of the decedent. This means, if a beneficiary acted negligently, and their negligence contributed to the accident and the decedent’s death, then the at-fault beneficiary will not be able to recover any part of the compensation if the administrator of the decedent’s estate pursues a wrongful death claim and obtains damages.

Why Hire a Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyer?

Laws related to wrongful death in Virginia are complex. Although after the loss of a beloved family member you not be thinking about a financial claim, it is prudent to contact a Virginia wrongful death lawyer who can hold the at-fault parties accountable.

Your lawyer will explain to you the applicable law in your case and your rights, and help you achieve your rightful compensation while avoiding any legal pitfalls along the way. Your wrongful death attorney will:

  • Investigate the cause of accident and determine fault
  • File the legal claim on your behalf
  • Talk to third party experts for their professional opinion
  • Negotiate the best possible settlement with the at-fault party and their insurance company
  • Fight your case in court, if it becomes unavoidable

Speak to a Seasoned VA Wrongful Death Attorney Today

The shock and grief involved in the wrongful death of a family member can be overwhelming. You need an experienced and compassionate Virginia wrongful death attorney who will help you have the time and space to recover from your loss, while working hard to protect your rights.

In regular cases, you will only have two years from the date of the fatal injury to file your claim. The legal team at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp will pursue your claim vigorously in order to maximize your compensation. To schedule a free consultation with our attorneys, call us at (833) 997-1774 today.