Wrongful Death
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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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  • When can a private autopsy be requested in Virginia?

    An authorized individual (primarily, a family member) can request a private autopsy at any time after a medical examiner who works for the Virginia Department of Health has completed a postmortem examination.

    Medical examiners work in each Virginia city and county. Section 321.-283 of the state code gives an ME discretion to perform a full autopsy on any person who dies

    • From trauma, injury, violence, poisoning or accident;
    • From suicide;
    • From homicide;
    • Suddenly when in apparent good health;
    • When unattended by a physician;
    • In jail, prison or some other correctional institution;
    • In police custody;
    • While receiving services in a state hospital or training center;
    • From burns or smoke inhalation in a fire;
    • Under any suspicious, unusual or unnatural manner; or
    • Suddenly as an apparently healthy infant.

    Other statutes require autopsies by ME in some of the listed scenarios. Families can request autopsy reports from MEs, and the conduct of an autopsy by an ME does not prevent a private postmortem examination.


  • Why would someone request a private autopsy in Virginia?

    Each person who dies does not receive an autopsy. When a hospital or medical examiner does perform a postmortem examination, the findings may be incomplete or in need of confirmation. Ordering a private autopsy allows a person who thinks that grounds for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit exist to gather evidence to support claims for compensation and monetary damages.

    Autopsies accomplish one of two things—and, often, both of those.

    First, an autopsy can reveal the cause of death. At the same time, an autopsy always rules out potential causes of death. Within the context of a Virginia wrongful death lawsuit, knowing why the victim died can make all the difference. Knowing what did not kill the victim is equally important.

    In medical malpractice cases, for instance, an autopsy will rule an overdose of medication in or out as the cause of death. Likewise, an autopsy following a suspected surgical error can reveal damage done by negligent use of scalpels or lasers.


  • Who can request a private autopsy in Virginia?

    After a person dies in Virginia, Section 54.1-2973 of the state code empowers the following individuals to “authorize and consent to a postmortem examination and autopsy on a decedent's body for the purpose of determining the cause of death of the decedent, for the advancement of medical or dental education and research, or for the general advancement of medical or dental science”:

    • The spouse,
    • An adult son or daughter,
    • A parent,
    • An adult brother or sister,
    • A person who acted as a guardian of the deceased person at the time of the person’s death, and
    • An individual who has legal authority to dispose of the body.

    This list is ranked. In other words, a wife or husband has more authority to request an autopsy than does a child; a child has more authority than a parent; and so forth. Also, higher-ranked individuals can overrule lower-ranked individuals on decisions regarding the performance of an autopsy.


  • What types of injuries result from swimming pool accidents caused by negligence?

    In addition to fatal drownings, there are other injuries that can occur that leave victims with severe and often permanent injuries. Near drownings leave victims in a state of being unable to breathe and with no heartbeat. Although resuscitation may help the victim to begin breathing again, they often suffer deprivation of oxygen to the brain, leaving them with severe mental and physical injuries.

  • What are the most frequent causes of swimming pool drownings?

    • Defective drains which cause suction drownings
    • Diving board accidents
    • Failure to supervise
    • Negligent lifeguarding
    • No fence around the pool
    • Overcrowded pools
    • Poor water depth markers
    • Slippery surfaces

  • How prevalent are non-boating drowning accidents?

    According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 10 non-boating drowning deaths that occur each day in this country. Many of these incidents occur in swimming pools and many of the victims are young children.

    These incidents spike during the summer months. In 2017, 163 children younger than 15 years of age fatally drowned in swimming pools. Seven of those victims lived here in Virginia.

  • How can I calculate a just amount of compensation for my pain and suffering in a wrongful death claim?

    No amount of money will make up for the loss of a loved one, but your wrongful death attorney can help you to calculate a fair and reasonable sum for your pain and suffering. 

  • Do I have a right to noneconomic damages in a wrongful death case?

    Yes. Noneconomic damages may also be referred to as pain and suffering. However, note that in a wrongful death case, the deceased's pain and suffering does not factor directly into a settlement, but the family member's suffering and pain is a major factor. 

  • What damages can be recovered in a wrongful death claim?

    The specific damages that can be recovered depending upon the circumstances of the victim’s death, however, in general, family can pursue compensation for funeral expenses, loss of the victim’s income, and noneconomic losses such as loss of the victim’s companionship, care, guidance, assistance, affection, and protection.

    The victim’s family may also file a survival action in order to recover certain economic losses the victim’s estate suffered, including medical expenses, loss of income, and any other losses the victim may have been able to recover in a personal injury lawsuit had they recovered.

  • Who can file a wrongful death claim?

    Under Virginia law, survivors must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the victim’s death. Legally, survivors are considered the following (in order of who has the legal claim):

    • The surviving spouse and children of the victim
    • The surviving parents of the victim. If the parents are not alive, then the siblings of the victim may file.
    • Any relative who was financially dependent on the victim
    • Any relative who is entitled to inherit from the victim’s estate based on the intestacy laws of Virginia.