What Is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth in Virginia?
If you have lost a loved one in an accident in Virginia, a well-intentioned friend or family member may suggest the possibility of filing a wrongful death suit. However, not understanding the process, you may be wondering whether or not bringing forth a wrongful death claim in the state is worth the legal cost and hassle.
At the law offices of Buck, Toscano & Tereskerz, Ltd., our experienced wrongful death lawyers are empathetic to what you’re going through and understand that you likely have many questions. We can help you to understand the value of a wrongful death claim. Here’s what you should know:
Damages Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Action
Section 8.01-52 of the Code of Virginia specifies the types of damages that are awardable in a wrongful death suit. According to the statute, the jury or court may award such damages as it finds “fair and just,” including, but not limited to:
- Punitive damages. Punitive damages are not always awarded in wrongful death claims, and these damages are not compensatory in nature. Instead, punitive damages are designed to penalize a defendant for their willful or wanton conduct.
- Funeral expenses. The funeral and burial expenses related to the death of the victim may be recovered in a wrongful death suit in full value.
- Medical expenses prior to death. If any medical expenses were incurred by the decedant prior to death, such as costs of hospitalization or medical care, these damages can also be recovered in their full value via a wrongful death action.
- Lost wages. Losing a loved one often means losing a family member and an income earner, which can be financially devastating for a family. A wrongful death action permits the recovery of the decedent’s lost wages and benefits.
- Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace. Finally, a wrongful death lawsuit can also award damages for noneconomic losses such as “sorrow, mental anguish, and solace.” To clarify, the statute reads that these damages may include compensation for the value of loss of companionship, comfort, society, guidance, advice, and the kindly offices of the defendant.
Factors that Affect How Much a Claim Is Worth
The mere fact that the above damages are recoverable in a wrongful death action does not mean that plaintiffs will recover all the above damage types. The statute also tells us little about the actual worth of a claim. Some elements that can affect the value of a wrongful death suit include:
- Degree of damages suffered. The degree of the damages suffered will have a significant effect on the value of a claim. For example, if the decedent left behind no children or no young children, then loss of parental guidance will be minimal, and therefore this type of damages won’t be relevant. Similarly, if the decedent brought in an average salary per year, the amount of damages recoverable in lost wages will likely be less than those for the family of a neurosurgeon pulling in $.25 million per year.
- Fault and liability. Another consideration in a wrongful death claim is the degree of fault and liability of the defendant. Virginia follows a pure contributory negligence rule, which means that a defendant must be found to be 100 percent at fault, and the victim zero percent at fault, in order for the defendant to be held liable. As such, even if your claim is worth $1 million, if you cannot prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s actions, you may be barred from recovering damages.
- Insurance available. Finally, note that all settlements and jury verdicts ultimately depend on the amount of compensation that’s available via an insurance policy and attaching directly to a defendant’s assets. If there is no insurance policy in place and the defendant has no assets to speak of, then recovery may prove impossible.
Call Our Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyers Today to Learn More
Understanding the value of your wrongful death claim can be confusing. To help you make sense of your legal situation, please call our wrongful death lawyers at the office of Buck, Toscano & Tereskerz, Ltd. We offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, and we are more than willing to provide you with legal advice today. Please schedule your consultation by sending us a message, visiting our office in person, or calling us at (434) 977-7977.