The questions on this page were answered by our team of Virginia Beach & Norfolk personal injury attorneys. The questions are categorized by practice area such as car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, etc. If you have specific questions about your situation, contact our firm to set up a free consultation with an actual attorney.
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What Types of Monetary Compensation Can an Injured Person Receive in Virginia?
Virginia laws allow plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases to claim compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are further classified as economic damages and noneconomic damages. These are generally available to all victims of car crashes, truck wrecks, slips, falls, dog bites and animal attacks, electric shocks, dangerous and defective products, and medical malpractice.
Punitive damages, which are also called exemplary damages because they warn others against similar behavior, can only be claimed and awarded when certain circumstances exist. Additionally, the award of monetary damages in wrongful death cases differs slightly from the award of monetary damages in personal injury cases. Keep reading to learn more details.
- How Does a Victim Prove Negligence in a Car Accident Case?
- What Does ‘Pain and Suffering’ Mean in a Personal Injury Case?
- We Sue Drunk Drivers
When Compensatory Damages Are Awarded
To secure a settlement or win a civil trial, a Virginia plaintiff must
- File their claims within the applicable statute of limitations, which is generally (but not always) 2 years from the date of the injury or death;
- Prove negligence or recklessness on behalf of the person or company named as the defendant;
- Prove that they, as the victim, did not contribute to causing the accident; and
- Present evidence of financial losses due to medical care, disability and/or death.
Economic Damages Are Compensation for Losses That Can Be Precisely Calculated or Reasonably Estimated
Economic damages are always available to injury or wrongful death plaintiffs who can prove they deserve compensation. Awards of economic damages in Virginia can include, but are not limited to, payments for
- Past and future medical expenses,
- Wages lost while out of work following the accident,
- Loss of future earnings due to a partial or total disability, and
- Reimbursement of expenses incurred as a result of the accident (e.g., traveling or moving to receive specialized medical care).
Noneconomic Damages Are Compensation for Pain and Suffering
Emotional distress, physical pain, mental anguish, post-traumatic stress, depression and other long-term, debilitating problems created by another party’s negligence or recklessness are quite real and deserving of compensation. No one can put an exact dollar value on mental health, bodily comfort and emotional well-being, however.
Despite this, accident victims and the survivors of wrongful death victims are allowed to claim and receive noneconomic damages. These are typically described as awards for pain and suffering, and the amount is generally estimated as a percentage of the economic damages.
Virginia laws imposes caps on noneconomic damages in many instances, especially for cases involving medical malpractice. Partnering with an experienced Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorney will make it easier to understand the rules and to produce an estimate of what constitutes fair compensation for pain and suffering.
Punitive Damages Are Most Frequently Paid by Drunk Drivers
In Virginia, punitive damages are typically only available in two types of cases. First, people who are hurt or killed by dangerous or defective products can claim punitive damages against corporations. Additionally, victims of drivers who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs and very intoxicated can claim punitive damages.
The award of punitive damages requires going through both a jury trial and a second hearing devoted specifically to determining the amount the defendant must pay as a noncriminal fine. As with noneconomic damages, Virginia law caps punitive damages in most instances.
A Note on Wrongful Death Claims
The Virginia Code lists the types of claims the plaintiff in a wrongful death case can make. According the section 8.01-52, compensation can be requested for all of the following:
- Sorrow, mental anguish and the loss of the deceased person’s “society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice”;
- Reasonably expected losses of income for the person who died
- Loss of “services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent”;
- Medical and care expenses for an injury that resulted in death;
- Funeral expenses; and
- Punitive damages if such would be available in a personal injury case.
How long does it take to get a settlement check once an agreement is reached?
Typically, once the victim has signed the release and agreement, the insurance company will usually send the check within a week or two. If you have a personal injury attorney representing you, the check will be sent to the attorney, who will put together a settlement statement. This statement will include the total funds collected from the insurance company, minus the attorney fees, court costs, and any other necessary deductions. Once the victim signs the settlement statement, the attorney will release the funds.
What is a release in a settlement agreement?
When both parties reach a settlement agreement, the victim is required to sign a release before the agreed-upon compensation will be released by the insurance company. This document “releases” all legal claims the victim has against the at-fault party and the insurance company for their injuries. It is important to note that once the release is signed, the victim is not able to pursue additional damages should issues from the accident arise in the future.
How long does it take to settle a personal injury claim?
Although very few personal injury lawsuits actually go to trial, it is important to remember that every case is different. The majority of cases are resolved with the parties agree to a settlement amount. It is impossible to predict how long it can take to negotiate a fair and just settlement with the at-fault party and/or their insurance company.
Generally, the more serious or severe the victim’s injuries and losses are, the longer it takes to reach a settlement. This is because of the potential amount of financial compensation the victim is entitled to. Insurance companies are notorious for fighting harder the more the victim’s losses add up to. This is why it can be critical to retain a personal injury attorney to advocate for you.
Are there exemptions to Virginia’s grant of charitable immunity from personal injury claims?
The three statutory exemptions from charitable immunity are gross negligence, recklessness and willful misconduct. The terms do not have exact legal definitions, but “gross negligence” is generally understood to mean failing to act to prevent harm when the potential for harm is so evident as to seem inevitable. Recklessness is behavior that will result in harm despite intent, and “willful misconduct” usually means that a person or organization ignored repeated warnings about potential harms.
Who can claim charitable immunity from a personal injury claim in Virginia?
The law that offers charitable immunity, section 44-146.23 of the Virginia Code, includes this list of organizations and people who can claim the protection from insurance claims and civil lawsuits:
- Limited liability companies
- Joint ventures
- Fraternal organizations
- Religious organizations
- Charitable organizations
- Legal or commercial entities and any successors
To qualify for charitable immunity, an individual or organization must show that they were engaged in providing aid, shelter, emergency response, advice or comfort at the time that an injury or death occurred.
What is charitable immunity in Virginia and how could it affect my personal injury claim?
Section 44-146.23 of the Virginia Code grants immunity from personal injury and wrongful claims to an “individual, corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, limited liability company, trust, joint venture, fraternal organization, religious organization, charitable organization, or any other legal or commercial entity and any successor, officer, director, representative, or agent thereof, who” acts to respond to an emergency, provide aid and advice, or offer shelter.
Charitable immunity extends from the common law principle that organizations and individuals should not be punished for attempting to do good. This is same reason that Virginia and every other state has a Good Samaritan law that holds people immune from lawsuits after they provide emergency first aid.
The immunity extends to licensed charities, religious organizations and churches, and all the staff and volunteers for those organizations. The immunity from insurance claims and civil lawsuits goes away when evidence shows that harm resulted from “gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct.”
As an example of how charitable immunity applies, a churchgoer can almost never sue a pastor or church board after tripping in the aisle. On the other hand, patrons who contracted food poisoning would likely be able to file claims against a food pantry whose managers refused to dispose of expired or recalled canned goods.
I have a personal injury claim pending, but I’m having financial difficulties waiting for the case to settle. I see all of these fast cash ads. Are these companies legit?
There are many personal injury lawsuit loan companies, but victims should avoid these types of financial transactions if possible. These loans have extremely high-interest rates which could result in a substantially less final settlement amount for you.
I am unable to work while I recover from my injuries. My phone rings nonstop every day with calls from creditors. What can I do?
Although not all of your creditors will work with you, some of them will. Check with your credit card companies and auto loan company to see if you have a monthly protection plan that will pay your monthly obligation in the event you are injured or become seriously ill. Many consumers choose these options when they sign up and often forget about them. If you don’t have a protection plan in place, make sure to keep in touch with your creditors and see if they are willing to work out some type of arrangement.
I can’t work because of my injury and have no income. How can I alleviate some of the financial stress?
If you cannot work while you recover from your injury, the loss of income can cause a financial hardship for your family. Although you will likely eventually be compensated for those lost wages through your accident claim, there are some steps you can take to help.
Take a look at all of your monthly expenses and decide where you can cut. Eliminate luxury expenses like entertainment packages on your cable bill, club memberships, etc. Pause any subscription services you may have, such as newspaper and magazine subscriptions, streaming music and film services, etc.