In Virginia, a statute outlining a fixed priority order determines the disbursal of damages to beneficiaries of the deceased in wrongful death cases. The law places beneficiaries in groups; and once the members in a designated group recover damages, members in the subsequent group become eligible. 

The Designated Priority Order of Beneficiaries

This is the priority order of the surviving family members of the deceased, laid down by the statute:

  1. Spouse and children, or grandchildren of the deceased
  2. Parents and siblings, or any relative who co-habited with or was reliant on the deceased
  3. A family member who can rightfully claim inheritance under the intestate succession statutes of Virginia

To explain further, the parents and siblings (in the second group above) cannot lay claim to a share of proceeds in a wrongful death case if the deceased individual has a surviving spouse, or children and grandchildren (in the first group above). A grandparent has the rights to a share in the proceeds only if:

  1. there are no surviving members in the first group
  2. there are no other surviving members in the second group, or the grandparent shared the household and was a dependent of the deceased individual

Allocation of Proceeds in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia

In case of a jury verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit, the jury may determine to allocate the amount or the proportion of the proceeds to each of the beneficiaries. In the event of the jury not deciding the allocation, the judge must lay out the order and proportion of disbursal prior to entering judgment.

In case of a settlement agreement instead of a jury verdict in a wrongful death case, the agreement itself will normally determine the distribution of the proceeds. The statute authorizes the personal representative to concur to a claim settlement, but the claim proceeds must be distributed as per the statute.

The set of rules stated above, apply generally to a wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia. However, the precise facts and distinguishing circumstances of each case help resolve the allocation of proceeds in a wrongful death case.

Court Approval of Settlements in Wrongful Death Cases

The statute requires a Virginia court to approve the settlement prior to its finalization in a wrongful death case. Filing of a lawsuit in the case dispenses with the need for court approval, as approval is implicit in the action of filing the suit.

In the absence of a lawsuit, the personal representative or the insurance agency representing the at-fault party must file an independent appeal in court. The court examines the settlement, and determines the distribution of benefits to the surviving family members of the deceased individual entitled to the claim. 

If any of the surviving family members entitled to receive the benefits disagree with the distribution, they have the right to raise objections to the settlement allocation. The court then has the power to decide the distribution in a manner that conforms with the legal provisions pertaining to damages.

Once the court approves a wrongful death settlement, the responsibility to distribute the proceeds lies with the personal representative. The representative needs to reimburse any sums due to the estate and the amounts due to creditors of the estate first.

Next in line for distribution, are the surviving family members’ allocations as per the provisions of the settlement. 

Why Filing a Lawsuit is Important in a Wrongful Death Case?

It is not mandatory under law, for the personal representative to file a lawsuit in a wrongful death case to claim compensation and work out a settlement. But it is often useful to uphold the right to seek and recover compensation from the at-fault party.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit comes with a two-year statute of limitations in Virginia. The personal representative can lose the right to recover damages if they fail to file an action within two years of the wrongful death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia?

The statute allows only the personal representative of the deceased person to file the lawsuit. The case of an unborn child is an exception under law as the natural mother can file the lawsuit (with limited qualifications and exceptions).

The term personal representative applies to a person named by the deceased in their will to manage their estate, or in the absence of a will, the person designated by the court. State law decides on the eligibility to apply to be the personal representative when someone dies without leaving behind a will.

Contact a Virginia Wrongful Death Law Attorney

The family of the deceased person suffers substantially, in terms of physical, emotional, and economic support. Claims for economic compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit can include the loss of lifetime earnings and the loss of financial support for the home and family. The team of competent and compassionate wrongful death attorneys at Appleton, Shapiro & Washburn are always at hand to speak to you and understand your individual case. We will guide you and help formulate the right strategy to recover the maximum probable value for your losses. Call us today at (833) 997-1774 for a free case evaluation or contact us online to schedule a fully confidential free consultation.