When a person is injured through the negligence of another party, the injured can file a lawsuit to hold the negligent party liable for damages. This is the principle behind most personal injury claims. A somewhat different type of legal action must be used in cases involving a fatal injury. These cases require a claim of wrongful death.
Under Virginia law, there are two main differences between suits for wrongful death and suits for personal injury. The first lies in who can file the claim. In a personal injury suit, the injured party, or their personal representative, files the claim. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate, on behalf of the deceased’s immediate family members.
An executor is a person appointed to administer an estate through the will of the deceased. An administrator is someone appointed by a court to administer the estate, if the deceased left no will, or if the executor was unavailable for some other reason.
The other big difference lies in the types of damages that may be recoverable. In a personal injury case, these can include economic damages such as medical expenses and lost income, and so-called noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.
A wrongful death lawsuit is meant to compensate the surviving family members for their losses. The damages they can recover are meant to compensate them for projected income of their loved one, as well as medical and funeral expenses. In addition, they can recover compensation for harder-to-define damages such as mental anguish and loss of companionship. In some unusual cases involving willful or reckless conduct, the family may be able to collect punitive damages.
No amount of money can bring back a loved one, but a wrongful death lawsuit can be a great help to a grieving family. Their losses are very real, and will affect them in untold ways for the rest of their lives.