The death of a family member as a result of someone else's negligence can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. The sudden and traumatic nature of these losses leads to not only anger and grief but confusion as well. Often, the insurance companies begin calling, even before the initial shock has worn off. They may request that documents be signed, recorded statements be made, or even final agreements to be authorized. In many cases, this quick contact is used intentionally to take advantage of this confusion in order to minimize the potential costs and exposure to the insurance company.
Before any substantial communication is undertaken with an insurance company, it is helpful to have some basic information of Wrongful Death in Virginia and the rights that go along with that claim.
1) WHO CAN BRING AN ACTION FOR WRONGFUL DEATH
Not everyone can bring an action for Wrongful Death in Virginia, or recover as beneficiaries. Virginia recognizes the following classes of individuals as having the right to recover for the loss of a loved one:
- A surviving husband or wife;
- A child of the deceased;
- The parents of the deceased;
- The brothers and sisters of the deceased; and
- A family member that lived in the same household of the deceased that qualifies as a dependent.
The beneficiary will find that any defendant or insurance company will look to close the claim for everyone listed above at the same time. In the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one, this can add unneeded and unwanted stress to an already difficult situation.
2) WHAT LOSSES CAN BE CLAIMED IN A VIRGINIA WRONGFUL DEATH ACTION
Virginia limits the economic and non-economic damages that can be claimed in a Wrongful Death action to the following:
- Medical bills for the treatment of the injuries of the deceased;
- The loss of future income of the deceased;
- Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace, which include the loss of companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice of the deceased;
- Funeral expenses; and
- Punitive/Exemplary damages, where there is willful or wanton conduct, or where there are reckless actions that show a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
- Example: Drunk driving where the alcohol level is .16 and above.
3) WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO PRESERVE EVIDENCE TO PROVE THE CASE
In many Wrongful Death actions, as with other serious injury cases, the insurance companies look to avoid taking responsibility for the injuries that their clients have caused. In order to preserve the evidence that may be necessary to ultimately prove the case, in many cases, it is insufficient to simply wait for the conclusions of the police. In addition to gathering and preserving evidence, it may be necessary to obtain experts in the fields of accident reconstruction and highway safety engineering to prove who is at fault in a motor vehicle, motorcycle, or tractor-trailer accident; and in the field of medical malpractice it is a mandatory requirement that an expert medical witness be consulted before any legal action is initiated. Finally, in order to determine the financial losses, it may be necessary to consult with an economist who can use factors such as life expectancy, future income, potential and expected career advancement, and present-day values to maximize the actual dollar amount that can be claimed.
In these types of cases, having legal representation can help to take away some of the additional stress caused by these issues. While we know that our representation cannot take away the pain of your loss, we can stop the insurance calls, make sure the proper beneficiaries are represented, and obtain the right experts in order best preserve and advance your claim.