What Recourse Is Available Following a Fatal Car Accident?

When you think about it, getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is probably one of the most dangerous things we do in our day-to-day lives. Although you may be a careful driver, not everyone else is. As a result, there is small but significant chance of being involved in a car accident any time you are on the road.

Although some car accidents only result in injuries to those involved, sometimes the accident can be fatal. If you have lost a loved one in an accident caused by someone's negligence (e.g. texting while driving, driving while intoxicated, etc.), you may wonder if you have legal recourse. In Virginia, you potentially may recover the losses you suffered in a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Is “Wrongful Death”?

Under Virginia law, "wrongful death" is a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another person or corporation. Under the law, the circumstances of the decedent's death must be the kind that would have warranted a personal injury action had the decedent lived. To put this another way, a wrongful death lawsuit similar to a personal injury claim except the person injured is no longer able to sue the responsible party because he or she is dead. This type of lawsuit is often filed following fatal car accidents, truck accidents, medical malpractice or other instances where someone's negligence caused the death.

Who Files the Lawsuit?

In Virginia, the lawsuit is not filed in the name of the deceased party. Instead, the lawsuit is brought by the personal representative of the decedent's estate on behalf of the "statutory beneficiaries" entitled to recover compensation. Under the law, these beneficiaries include:

  • The spouse, children and grandchildren of the deceased
  • The decedent's parents or siblings
  • Any relative that is a dependent of the deceased
  • Any other surviving family member entitled to inherit under the law.

Under the law, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the decedent's death. A failure to do so means the lawsuit will not be heard in court, due to the statute of limitations.

Compensation Available Under Virginia’s Wrongful Death Laws

In Virginia, the court may award damages that it deems fair and just. Such damages may include:

  • Compensation for sorrow and mental anguish
  • Compensation for loss of income and services provided by the decedent
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Compensation for medical bills and treatment of deceased prior to the death
  • Punitive damages to punish the responsible party, if he or she acted willfully, recklessly or with a disregard for the safety of others.

Any damages awarded in the lawsuit are distributed to the statutory beneficiaries according to a certain hierarchy. Although the order of distribution is complicated, generally all damages recovered go to the spouse, children (and children of any deceased children) of the decedent first. If none of these relatives exist, the parents, siblings and dependent relatives may share in the damages. However, if the decedent did not have any children, but died with a living spouse and parents, the damage award may be distributed between the two.

Speak to an Attorney to Learn More about a Potential Wrongful Death Claim

Unfortunately, wrongful death lawsuits cannot bring your loved one back to life. However, they can allow you to obtain answers regarding the death and compensation to help you with the financial strain caused by your loved one's death. In doing so, they can help you find the peace to move on with your life. If a loved one had perished following a fatal accident, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC to learn more about the options available to you. Submit a contact form to schedule a free consultation or call 703-691-8333.