What Are the Differences Between a Personal Injury Claim and a Wrongful Death Claim?

When a family member is injured in an accident through no fault of their own, filing a claim for financial compensation is likely the furthest thing from your mind. Additionally, the idea of navigating the legal process can feel overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you are facing medical bills and lost wages. Despite this, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are often the only way for injured victims and surviving family members to obtain the financial compensation they need to cover their damages. If someone you love was seriously injured or died in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be unsure about whether you should file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Although both claims arise from similar events, they differ in quite a few ways, including who is permitted to file and the forms of damages available. By understanding these differences, you can better determine which legal action is appropriate to take. At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, our Virginia Beach wrongful death lawyers have been providing reliable support to injured victims and their families across the state since 1985. Call us today to schedule a free consultation. 

How Are Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Defined in Virginia?

In Virginia, personal injury is defined as an injury that occurs when the negligence or wrongful act of one party causes injury to another. Common examples include pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, dog bites, and defective products. 

A wrongful death can arise from the same forms of negligence or misconduct. In these cases, however, the victim’s injuries prove fatal.

Who is Eligible to File?

Where personal injury lawsuits are concerned, in most cases, only the injured party is able to bring a lawsuit for damages.  

According to  Virginia’s wrongful death laws, only the executor of the deceased’s estate is entitled to file a wrongful death claim. This is due to the fact that the deceased is, quite clearly, no longer able to do so themselves.  

Who Collects the Damages in Each Lawsuit?

In a personal injury case, damages are awarded to the victim who filed the lawsuit. Although every case is different, these often include medical bills, lost wages, 

In a Virginia wrongful death case, the damages from a verdict or settlement will go to the statutory beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate. The state laws that delineate the beneficiaries in a wrongful death case are complicated, but can ultimately be broken down into three distinct classes:

The first group of beneficiaries consists of the deceased’s:

  • The surviving spouse 
  • The children
  • The children of any deceased child 
  • If the victim predeceases at least one person listed above, then their parents who routinely received services or support from the decedent for necessities like shelter, food, living expenses, etc., within one year prior to the death may also be included; and
  • If the victim predeceases at least one person listed above. In that case, any other family members who lived with the deceased and were financially dependent on them for services or support may also be included.

If the decedent does not leave behind a spouse, child, or a child of a deceased child, then the damages will go to the next class of beneficiaries, which is as follows:

  • The victim’s parents
  • The victim’s siblings
  • Any other relatives who lived with the victim and were dependent on them for services or support.

If the victim leaves behind only parents and a spouse, but no children or grandchildren, then the damages go to the following group of beneficiaries: 

  • Their spouse;
  • Their decedent’s parents
  • Any other relatives who resided with the victim and were dependent on them for services or support.

If the victim doesn’t leave behind any person from the three groups listed above, then beneficiaries will be determined by Virginia’s intestate succession laws

What Unique Categories of Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?

In a Virginia wrongful death case, beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased could be entitled to:

  • Grief, emotional suffering, and the loss of companionship, comfort, guidance, and support once provided by the deceased;
  • Compensation for the anticipated loss of the decedent’s income and the services, protection, care, and assistance they rendered;
  • Expenses related to the medical treatment and hospitalization of the deceased due to the injury that led to their death;
  • Reasonable costs associated with the funeral; and
  • Punitive damages can be awarded in cases involving intentional misconduct or extreme recklessness that shows a blatant disregard for the safety of others.

Pain and suffering damages are unavailable in a Virginia wrongful death case.

Discuss Your Case With a Virginia Beach Wrongful Death Attorney

If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to another’s negligence, you might be uncertain about the validity of a wrongful death claim. The skilled wrongful death attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp in Virginia Beach can assess the details of your case and inform you of your rights and legal options during a complimentary consultation. Our firm is dedicated to securing the highest possible financial compensation for our clients, offering comprehensive support and strong legal advocacy throughout the process. For example, we recently secured a $3.5 million settlement for the family of a man killed by a negligent truck driver. To arrange a free case evaluation with one of our attorneys, call (833) 997-1774 or complete our simple online contact form. We serve clients across Virginia from our offices in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hampton.