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Wrongful death claims vs. survival actions: What’s the difference?

On Behalf of | Dec 12, 2022 | Wrongful Death

It’s always difficult to lose a loved one, but the heartbreak can be manifold when that loved one is taken from you before their natural time through someone else’s negligence or deliberate actions.

In Virginia, a victim’s survivors may be able to file both a survival action and a wrongful death claim. Whatever your situation, understanding the difference between these two can help you make more informed decisions.

What’s a wrongful death claim?

A wrongful death claim is focused on the losses suffered by the victim’s close relatives due to the victim’s unnatural death. Those losses may be economic in nature and easily quantifiable, such as:

  • The loss of the victim’s financial contributions and support
  • The loss of their other services to the family unit or survivors
  • The cost of reasonable funeral and burial or cremation expenses

Survivors can also use a wrongful death claim to obtain compensation for their own mental anguish and suffering over their loved one’s loss – but they cannot ask for compensation for their loved one’s pain and suffering before they died. You can also ask for punitive damages if the person who caused your loved one’s death acted willfully or in a way that showed a particular disregard for others.

What’s a survival action?

A survival action, essentially, the personal injury lawsuit that the victim could have filed if they had lived. (In some cases, it may be a claim that was even filed by the victim before their death.) It would focus on things like:

  • The victim’s medical expenses between the accident and their death
  • The victim’s lost wages following the accident
  • The victim’s pain and suffering between the accident and their death


Any compensation for a survival action goes to the deceased’s estate and gets distributed according to their will or intestate succession laws. In comparison, proceeds from a wrongful death claim usually go directly to the survivors making the claim.

It can be difficult to determine which kind of claim you should file without experienced legal assistance. Don’t hesitate to learn more.