Losing a loved one can be devastating. Not only can it be difficult to adjust to life without a family member, but the expenses and loss of income caused by his or her absence could create significant financial burdens on the family. If another person is found to be negligent in the death of a loved one, the family retains the right to file a wrongful death claim seeking damages recoverable under Virginia law.
Wrongful death claims can be filed under a number of circumstances such as medical malpractice, a vehicle accident or other circumstances where a certain party or parties caused or contributed to another person's death. A personal representative of the estate must have been appointed in order to file the claim. If the claim is successful, different kinds of damages may be awarded by the court.
Pecuniary damages are the financial losses suffered by a family as the result of the death of the victim. This includes expenses incurred by surviving family members due to the negligence that led to the death of their loved one such as medical costs and funeral and burial expenses. These damages may also include the loss of any income that may have been earned by the victim. In cases where the negligence was serious enough or malicious, the court may consider an award of punitive damages, which are designed to "punish" the defendant for his or her actions. It can also serve as a cautionary tale to outside parties that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Litigating a wrongful death claim ordinarily occurs in two stages, both of which can be complex and frustrating. First, the negligence of the party or parties needs to be established to the satisfaction of a Virginia court. Second, damages must be proven as well. If both of these are proven, the court may award damages to the family that could help defray the costs associated with the loss of a loved one.
Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview", , Aug. 30, 2014