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How are Virginia wrongful death claims handled in court?

In Virginia, there are some clear procedures set forth in our state’s laws concerning civil claims for damage related to the death of a person due to someone else’s negligence. These cases are known as wrongful death cases and can be confusing for those unfamiliar with their mechanics. To learn more about the details of filing a Virginia wrongful death claim, keep reading.

In Virginia, who are the beneficiaries in a wrongful death case?

§ 8.01-53. Class and beneficiaries

A. The damages awarded pursuant to § 8.01-52 shall be distributed as specified under § 8.01-54 to (i) the surviving spouse, children of the deceased and children of any deceased child of the deceased or (ii) if there be none such, then to the parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased, and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (iii) if the decedent has left both surviving spouse and parent or parents, but no child or grandchild, the award shall be distributed to the surviving spouse and such parent or parents or (iv) if there are survivors under clause (i) or clause (iii), the award shall be distributed to those beneficiaries and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (v) if no survivors exist under clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), the award shall be distributed in the course of descents as provided for in § 64.2-200. Provided, however, no parent whose parental rights and responsibilities have been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction or pursuant to a permanent entrustment agreement with a child welfare agency shall be eligible as a beneficiary under this section. For purposes of this section, a relative is any person related to the decedent by blood, marriage, or adoption and also includes a stepchild of the decedent.

Virginia’s wrongful death statute makes clear that there are several categories of beneficiaries who can recover damages for a wrongful death. These include surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and finally, other, more distantly related relatives. The law says that the jury can choose to apportion the damages to the beneficiaries, or if it does not, then the Court must do so when it enters a final judgment.

What wrongful death case damages can be recovered?

§ 8.01-52. Amount of damages.

The jury or the court, as the case may be, in any such action under § 8.01-50 may award such damages as to it may seem fair and just. The verdict or judgment of the court trying the case without a jury shall include, but may not be limited to, damages for the following:

1. Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent;

2. Compensation for reasonably expected loss of (i) income of the decedent and (ii) services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent;

3. Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in death;

4. Reasonable funeral expenses; and

5. Punitive damages may be recovered for willful or wanton conduct, or such recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others.

The Virginia statute governing wrongful death lawsuits establishes a method for how damages are calculated.  According to the law, the judge or jury can award damages that it decides are fair and just. Examples of these damages include money for mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of income, medical expenses, funeral expenses and, in some cases, even punitive damages meant to send an especially strong message to the responsible party.

What is the Virginia statute of limitations for wrongful death actions?

In Section 8.01-244(B) of Virginia Code it says that the statute of limitations for wrongful death actions is two years from the date of the person’s death. This means that if you fail to file your case within this time period, the responsible party will unfortunately be able to avoid financial liability for their actions.

This normal two-year rule does not apply in cases where the party is a minor. In Virginia, the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning it stops running, until the person turns 18 at which point the clock begins ticking. That means for minors, the statute of limitations does not actually expire until he or she turns 20.

These rules are again shifted in medical malpractice cases, which have their own unique time limits. The law says that for adults, any legal action against a health care provider must be filed within two years of the date that the act giving rise to the injury occurred. However, any suit based on the discovery of a foreign object must be filed within one year from the date that object was or should have been discovered, and cannot be filed in any case more than 10 years from the date the foreign object was inserted. For minors under eight-years-old, the law says the statute of limitations expires on their 10th birthday. For those minors eight-years-old and older, they have two years from the date of the act that gave rise to the injury to file suit.

For more information about wrongful death claims in Virginia, consider reading through the following articles written by my firm’s experienced wrongful death attorneys: