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Understanding the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Virginia

The death of a family member can be devastating, especially when it is due to an accident or other unexpected incident. While nothing can bring back your loved one, there are steps you can take to ensure those who are left behind are taken care of.

With the assistance of a qualified Virginia attorney, you can potentially bring suit against the individual or business responsible for the death. However, there are time limitations on taking action.

Defining Wrongful Death

Before filing a lawsuit against an individual or business, it is important to understand what constitutes a wrongful death. Under Virginia law, a “wrongful death” is a death that is “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another individual or party. In short, if a person would have been able to pursue a personal injury claim had they lived, then chances are good a wrongful death suit can be filed.

There are many different types of wrongful deaths, including car accidents, fatal incidents at the victim’s place of business, medical malpractice, and even crime-related incidents. With a wrongful death lawsuit, the estate of the deceased individual can only sue for monetary damages—as opposed to a criminal homicide case in which prison time is an option.

Compared to a criminal case, a wrongful death lawsuit is much easier to win. In fact, it is possible to win a wrongful death lawsuit even if criminal charges against the at-fault party were not successful.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Virginia

Like many other states, Virginia has placed a time limit on when a wrongful death suit can be filed. This is known as a statute of limitations. In Virginia, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. If a claim is filed after the two-year mark has passed, it will very likely be barred from the court.

If there is a criminal case in progress related to the death in question, do not delay in filing a claim. Virginia law specifically states that a wrongful death suit can proceed even if the crime in question is considered to be a felony.

When deciding whether or not to file such a suit, consider what Virginia defines as warranted compensation:

  • Sorrow and mental anguish
  • Loss of income
  • Services that were provided by the deceased individual
  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical bills of the deceased prior to death

When a case involves conduct that the court decides is “willful or wanton” or demonstrates “a conscious disregard for the safety of others,” you may also receive punitive damages. This means that the money awarded does not need to be used to compensate for any specific loss. Instead, punitive damages are awarded with the intention to punish the defendant and discourage them from future such behaviors.

Standing to File a Wrongful Death Suit

Some states allow family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit, but Virginia only allows the claim to be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. This individual is also called an executor. The only exception to this rule is the death of a fetus, in which case the mother may file.

Even though an estate executor must file, the damages awarded will go to the deceased’s statutory beneficiaries. These usually include family members or dependents of the deceased. The order of monetary distribution is typically as follows:

  • The spouse and children of the deceased. This also includes grandchildren if children have also passed on.
  • Surviving parents or siblings, as well as any other relative who was dependent on or shared a household with the deceased.
  • If the above persons are not an option, then any surviving family member may be entitled to inherit the estate and/or any damages yielded from the suit.

Has Your Loved One Died Due To The Negligence Of Others?

If your loved one has died due to someone else's negligence you need to speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia personal injury law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia and look forward to helping you.