When someone’s death occurs due to the negligence of a person or entity, surviving family members can bring a civil lawsuit against the responsible party. This lawsuit is called a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Virginia law, wrongful death is defined as a death caused by another party’s wrongful act or neglect. Another way to think about wrongful death is that the circumstances surrounding the death would have been a personal injury claim had the person lived. Since the person is no longer alive to file a personal injury claim, their surviving loved ones can file a wrongful death claim instead.
A civil case differs from a criminal lawsuit in that a criminal lawsuit generally ends with some type of punishment and does not award damages to surviving family members. Monetary damages for survivors can only be obtained through a civil wrongful death lawsuit, even if a prosecutor or district attorney brings a criminal charge against the perpetrator.
Under the U.S. Constitution, every U.S. citizen has certain rights. Unfortunately, civil rights violations are common. When a civil rights violation ends in a death, the deceased’s loved ones have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable person or entity.
What are Common Civil Rights Violations?
Knowing more about civil rights violations can help one pursue a case. Common civil rights violations include:
- Hate crimes: A hate crime is committed when a person is injured or killed because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It can also be a crime if there is an attempt to injure or kill a person.
- Excessive force: This is when law enforcement uses more force than necessary for the situation.
- False arrest: Law enforcement cannot take someone into police custody without a valid reason or otherwise deprive someone of the freedom to leave without sufficient legal cause.
- Malicious prosecution: This is when law enforcement arrests someone without a valid reason and initiates a criminal complaint against them.
- Cruel and unusual punishment: No one can legally be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, including those in jail or prison. Inmates also have the right to adequate medical care and humane conditions. Cruel and unusual means that conditions are inhumane or violate basic human dignity. It also includes abusive treatment of inmates, such as the denial of medical care.
What are Common Wrongful Death Events?
A variety of death circumstances and intentional or unintentional acts can form the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- Deaths that occur under a civil rights violation
- Motorcycle accidents
- Truck accidents
- Car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Slip and fall accidents
- Occupational hazards or exposure
- Product defects
- Nursing home abuse
- Criminal acts
Every wrongful death case is different, and only a lawyer can bring a wrongful death lawsuit against a person or entity.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In Virginia, a wrongful death claim must be filed by a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative is also known as the executor. If the person died with a will, the executor is usually named in the will. If the person does not have a will, the court will appoint a personal representative of the estate.
Any damages awarded in a Virginia wrongful death claim will go to the deceased person’s statutory beneficiaries. These beneficiaries are family members or dependents and can include the surviving spouse and children or grandchildren. If there is no surviving spouse, child, or grandchild, next in line are the surviving parents and siblings of the deceased or a relative who was dependent on and shared a household with the deceased.
If none of the above are living, Virginia’s intestacy laws go into effect. It is important to note that a person must bring a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the date of the loved one’s death.
How Do I Prove Wrongful Death?
A person bringing a wrongful death lawsuit must prove that the defendant was negligent, which caused their loved one’s death. Generally, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- Duty of care: The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person. Duty of care can be considered an obligation. For example, if a person is killed in a car accident, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had an obligation to obey traffic and safety laws.
- Breach of duty of care: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. In other words, they were negligent in their actions.
- Causation: A plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s breach of duty of care directly caused the wrongful death. For example, in a car accident, the plaintiff must prove the driver disobeyed traffic laws and that the death was caused directly by the defendant.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be complex. The plaintiff must always meet the burden of proof and prove negligence by a preponderance of evidence. That means they must bring high quality and credible evidence to support the three elements noted above.
What Damages are Possible in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A court will order the defendant to pay damages if the lawsuit is successful. These damages are in the form of monetary compensation for losses associated with the loved one’s death. In Virginia, a surviving family member can seek compensation for the following:
- Value of lost income, including wages and benefits the deceased person would have been expected to earn.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Medical expenses related to the loved one’s injury or illness that led to the death, including hospitalization, surgeries, and similar medical costs.
- Loss of services, protection, care, and assistance the loved one would have provided had they lived.
- Loss of the loved one’s companionship, comfort, guidance, society, and advice.
- Sorrow and mental anguish.
How can a Lawyer Help?
If civil rights were violated, a lawyer can be the first line of defense in a wrongful death case. The lawyer can do the following:
- Research tort law.
- Develop a strategy for the case.
- Investigate the incidents leading up to death.
- Collect and analyze evidence.
- Meet with witnesses.
- Hire needed experts.
- Calculate the losses associated with the person’s death.
Often, a wrongful death suit will involve a defendant’s insurance company. A lawyer will present a solid case of evidence to them and enter into negotiations. Their goal will be to come to a fair and just compensation offer. When the parties cannot reach an agreement, a lawyer will take the case to court.
Virginia Beach Civil Rights Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Loved Ones in Wrongful Death Cases
Many civil rights violations can end in a wrongful death. When this happens, contact the Virginia Beach civil rights lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC. We understand that this is a sensitive matter, and we will handle your case with care. Call us at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.