If someone in your family is killed as a result of a third party’s wrongful actions or negligence, you have the right to file a civil case against them and seek damages. Such a case needs to be filed within a certain period of time, which is commonly referred to as the statute of limitations.
In Virginia, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years.
Why Statute of Limitations Matters
A statute of limitations essentially places a time limit on a claimant’s right to file a lawsuit against the person who caused or contributed to the victim’s death.
Without such a statute in place, the claimant might decide to file a lawsuit against the defendant several years after the victim’s death. In the meantime, the defendant might have lost the evidence that they could have used to defend themselves in a court of law. So, to make it fair for all the parties involved, the claimant is required to file the lawsuit within a reasonable time period, which in Virginia happens to be two years.
It’s vital to note that the two-year time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit starts not from the date of the accident, but from the date of the victim’s death.
In some cases, the victim might fall into a coma as a result of the injuries they sustained in the accident and die several months later. In these types of cases, it is the date of the death that should be taken into account, not the date of the accident.
What Happens If You Miss the Statute of Limitations in Virginia?
If you fail to bring a lawsuit against the liable party within the two-year time limit, you stand to lose your right to seek damages from them. If you try to file a case after two years, the defendant can request the court to dismiss it by simply pointing out the fact that you missed the deadline for filing the case, as mandated by the state’s laws.
There are, however, certain circumstances under which a civil court in Virginia might decide to extend the deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Exception to Virginia’s Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
If the victim is survived by a minor child, the time limit for filing the lawsuit starts only after the child reaches the age of 18. This is a common exception to the statute of limitations which is granted to all minor children under the age of 18.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia?
Under Virginia law, only a statutory beneficiary can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable party. The following people are categorized as statutory beneficiaries under the law.
- The victim’s spouse, children, and grandchildren
- The victim’s parents
- The victim’s siblings
- Any person who lives in the victim’s household and is financially dependent on the victim
- Any member of the victim’s extended family who has the right to inherit the victim’s estate under the state’s intestacy laws
What Kind of Damages Can You Recover in a Wrongful Death Case?
Under Virginia law, you are entitled to seek damages for the following economic and non-economic losses caused by your loved one’s death.
- The expenses associated with the hospitalization, treatment, and care provided to your loved one prior to their death
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of income caused by your loved one’s untimely death
- Loss of services, care, guidance, and protection provided by your loved one
- Mental anguish caused by your loved one’s death
Apart from this, in some cases, you might also be able to recover punitive damages from the liable party, depending on the circumstances that led to your loved one’s death.
The Importance of Hiring an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Virginia
Virginia is one of the few states where the doctrine of contributory negligence is applied to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. What it means is that if the defendant manages to establish that your loved one’s actions contributed to their own death – even to the slightest extent – you might not be able to recover any compensation from them.
This is why you need to hire a competent wrongful death lawyer who can not only build a strong case against the liable parties, but also think of all the arguments they are likely to make regarding your loved one’s culpability in causing the accident, and prepare the necessary counter arguments to disprove their claims.
The attorneys at Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn have handled several wrongful death claims over the years and have recovered tens of millions of dollars in damages for our clients. We know how to build a wrongful death case, what evidence to submit, and what arguments to make to convince the jury of the defendant’s culpability in causing the accident.
Call us today at 800-752-0042 for a free consultation with our skilled and knowledgeable wrongful death attorneys.