When the death of a loved one is legally caused by someone else, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed. This is a unique type of action because it is not brought by the injured person but rather by the executor or personal representative of his or her estate. Often, but not always, this is a close family member. It is this person who has the power to conduct and control a wrongful death lawsuit, making decisions such as whether to sue and whether to settle.
Wrongful death lawsuits can result from many causes, such as automobile collisions, medical mistakes and malpractice, nursing home abuse and neglect, and drunk driving. Wrongful death claims deal with very emotional issues, such as:
What happens to the family?
How is the family’s loss measured?
How can those left behind be made whole?
Fortunately, Virginia law specifically lists the factors that a jury may consider in attempting to set an amount of money when, really, no amount of money can ever be adequate. These factors include sorrow and mental anguish; loss of companionship, advice, protection, and income; hospitalization and treatment costs; and reasonable funeral expenses. In addition, punitive damages may be awarded if the death was caused by willful conduct or extreme recklessness.
The law also specifies who has the right to recover the damages. These people are called “statutory beneficiaries”. They are not the victim’s creditors, they are not controlled by the victim’s will, and they are not necessarily the people who might inherit from the victim. The estate is also not entitled to the damages. Because of these limitations, one of the most hotly contested issues in Virginia wrongful death cases is who will get the money. Ultimately, the court hearing the case decides who the statutory beneficiaries will be.
When the tragedy of wrongful death strikes, the grief and sorrow can be overwhelming. Call Greg Sandler at the Sandler Law Group to talk with someone who understands the issues, can provide you with the direction you need, and can guide you through the process of recovery: (757) 627-8900.