Losing someone too soon is one of the hardest things that a family and loved ones can experience. When that happens as a result of someone’s negligence, injury law states that the costs associated with the death are the responsibility of those who caused it. A Virginia wrongful death lawyer, like the one at Whitlock Law, LLC, can help survivors seek the compensation that they deserve.
We understand how challenging a time this can be for families. While we aggressively pursue the compensation that you deserve, we take care to be respectful of such a sensitive issue and time.
According to wrongful death law, there are only a few parties who can bring a wrongful death claim when someone’s death is caused by the negligence of others. Primarily, this is limited to family relationships. Spouses, biological children, and adopted children are all eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
In certain situations, parents may be able to file in the circumstance of a deceased child. If there is no immediate family to file the claim, or if they are unwilling to, then a representative of the estate may file a claim.
There is a system of prioritization for who can file, which can sometimes be complex. Speaking with a wrongful death lawyer can help you understand whether you are eligible to file a claim.
There are a few primary tasks that a wrongful death lawyer can engage in as they pursue fair compensation for their clients.
The first of these tasks is an investigation of the death. We look to understand how the death occurred and what party or parties may be liable for what occurred. We search for evidence that can be helpful in proving this liability in court if necessary. Along with that, we look for evidence that can be helpful in defending against any argument that the deceased was liable under contributory negligence claims.
Before taking the claim to court, there may be some interest in seeing if a settlement may be possible, and we can represent you in that negotiation process. The insurance company we will likely be negotiating with will probably take the situation a little more seriously if there are injury attorneys involved.
We have experience working with these companies, and they recognize that we aren’t going to entertain any offers that aren’t reasonable. Our involvement also signals a legitimate possibility of the case going to court, which they may want to avoid. That could inspire a more serious negotiation process.
There will be some cases, though, where a fair settlement can’t be agreed upon by both parties. If the claim then needs to go to court, we continue to represent our clients throughout that process. This means making the argument for liability on the part of the defendant, as well as possibly defending against claims of contributory negligence on the part of the deceased. We also demonstrate the costs that were incurred as a result of the death.
At Whitlock Law, LLC, we have experience in both settling claims outside of court and winning them in court. Our only goal is to see that our clients get a fair opportunity to secure the settlement that they deserve, regardless of how we need to pursue it.
A wrongful death claim is a type of personal injury claim, and the process for proving liability is roughly the same. The plaintiff, the person filing the claim, will need to demonstrate that the defendant committed an act of negligence that resulted in the wrongful death.
To show this, their lawyer must present whatever evidence they believe can demonstrate the three essential elements that establish the defendant’s fault.
A duty of care is the idea that the defendant had a responsibility to others, including the deceased, in the circumstances that led to the wrongful death. It means that they were responsible for considering the potential impact of their actions. Therefore, they should have taken steps to mitigate the risk associated with them.
For instance, a driver has a duty to operate their vehicle safely and within the boundaries of the rules of the road. Another example may be the duty of a carnival or amusement park to ensure that their rides are operating safely.
The specifics of what a duty of care should be will depend on the circumstances surrounding the wrongful death. Therefore, we work to familiarize ourselves with what should have been reasonably expected of the defendant.
The duty that the defendant had must have been breached for there to be liability. What this means is that they must have failed, in some way, to take all the necessary precautions that were required of them in the circumstances of the accident. This means that we need to prove both what they did and how that action or inaction fell short of what was expected from them.
If the incident that led to the death involved an obvious act of negligence, like in a drunk driving accident, the concept of how the driver committed the beach may be relatively easy to demonstrate for the court.
However, if the breach involved a less familiar situation, such as an aviation accident, it may be necessary to call on an expert witness (in this case, probably another pilot) to describe what the defendant should have done and how they failed to meet that duty of care.
Lastly, the breach by the defendant must be shown to be the direct cause of the death. In many cases, wrongful deaths are the result of accidents, so this can mean showing that the breach was the cause of the accident and that the accident was the cause of the death.
While this can seem fairly straightforward in many situations, it’s important to realize that there are times when someone may commit a breach of duty that doesn’t directly result in a death. For instance, failing to signal when you are changing lanes is a breach of duty. However, that wouldn’t be the cause of an accident if another driver runs a red light and causes a collision.
The death must also stem directly from the accident. This means that a previous issue, like a pre-existing condition, cannot be blamed on the accident or the defendant. For instance, there are some cases where an accident may have coincided with someone’s cardiac arrest.
However, the driver who caused the accident cannot be held liable for a pre-existing condition of heart disease. For liability to be established, it must be clear that the breach led to the accident and the death.
The restitution provided in a wrongful death claim is referred to as damages. These damages will only cover those costs that your lawyer is able to show are a direct result of the death. This is often done through various documentation and receipts, which is why it is important for you to maintain a good record of these costs.
The compensation will generally take the form of two or three different kinds of damages:
These address the financial costs that are associated with the death. If there are medical bills related to the injury or illness that led to the death, those are compensated. Wages, benefits, and other financial contributions that the deceased could have reasonably expected to earn are also addressed through this form of damages.
Additionally, any costs arising from a funeral and burial are also compensation under economic damages.
There are a wide variety of psychological and emotional impacts that the survivors in a wrongful death claim endure, and those are compensated through non-economic damages. Pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium are the kinds of impacts that these damages are meant to address.
The money won’t, of course, “solve” these concerns, but many survivors find that they can help with reducing stressors in other parts of life and make managing these issues a little easier.
Although rare, there are some cases where it is possible that punitive damages could also be awarded. These are meant to serve as a punishment if there was something intentionally harmful or otherwise egregious about the defendant’s actions. When we discuss your case with you, we can give you a better idea of whether your claim could qualify for these damages.
One of the important components of a wrongful death claim, should the case go to court, is the element of contributory negligence. This doctrine is used in all Virginia personal injury and wrongful death claims.
It allows the defendant and their lawyers the opportunity to argue that the deceased was either partially or entirely at fault for the accident that led to their death. They will need to similarly prove the elements of negligence on the part of the deceased, and the plaintiff’s lawyer must be ready to argue against these claims.
In most states, a similar procedure occurs under a system of comparative negligence. In those cases, if the deceased is found to be at fault for their death, the damages awarded in a wrongful death claim will be reduced proportionately to the fault of the deceased.
However, Virginia is one of a handful of states operating under a system of contributory negligence. If the deceased is found to be even just 1% at fault for the death, then the ability to collect damages may be nullified.
The stakes under the doctrine of contributory negligence make working with the right experienced wrongful death lawyer so critical. One of the most important tasks that we do is prepare for an argument against these kinds of accusations so that we might preserve our clients’ opportunities to collect damages.
The statute of limitations sets the deadline for when a civil claim must be filed. In a wrongful death claim, this is generally going to be two years from the date of the death. There may be a few exceptions that could extend the deadline, and there also may be some circumstances that shorten the window as well. It’s wise to talk with a lawyer as soon as you can so that they can help you understand the deadline in your situation.
It’s also important to talk with a lawyer quickly because, while two years may seem like a lot of time, there is a lot that needs to be accomplished within that window. Your lawyer needs time to investigate the case. Additionally, having time to work on negotiating a possible settlement may be valuable as well.
The decision on whether to take a claim to court or settle it out of court is a very personal one. It’s going to depend on a variety of factors, including what’s being offered, the risk of going through with a trial, and your tolerance for the process dragging on.
While the specifics of your situation are going to dictate whether you would like to settle or not, there are some benefits of settlements in general, as compared to going to court.
The major benefit of going to court is that it holds your strongest possibility for a maximum payout. However, it also carries potential risks. One of the major benefits of opting for a settlement is that it can avoid some of that risk. When a claim goes to court, there’s a possibility that the defendant might not be seen as liable.
There’s also the chance, under contributory negligence, that you could be barred from collecting damages. However, when you settle a claim, you are guaranteed to receive the compensation that you agree to.
Another significant benefit of settling a claim is the element of time. When you take a claim to court, it’s possible that it could be several months or even years before you receive the funds that you’re seeking, depending on how crowded the courts are and how long the trial process may take.
When you settle a claim instead, the funds are paid out according to the agreement. In most cases, you will receive them within thirty days of the settlement being signed and finalized.
There is also a benefit to a settlement that is highly personal to your interests. For many, though, it can be difficult to heal and move forward while the situation of a wrongful death claim remains unresolved.
For some, a settlement can be an option that brings resolution to the situation and allows them to move into the next phase of life without their loved one. Sometimes, the wound can still feel too fresh for people while the legal process drags on. The importance of this aspect will be different depending on the person, but a settlement may be right for this reason for some surviving family members.
One of the difficult aspects of the process for many people is deciding on the right lawyer to represent them through the process. There is no perfect answer for how to make that decision, but there are some ideas that can generally be helpful to consider.
It, of course, makes sense to look for an attorney with a strong base of knowledge and experience in these kinds of claims. You will also want someone who is mindful of the small details, as those can be essential to proving these claims.
It’s also important, though, that you take the time to see if you are comfortable with the lawyer. We understand how fragile a time it can be for families in these situations. We want to help you get the compensation that you’re owed, but we also understand the sensitivity that the situation requires.
Taking the time to make sure that you will be properly cared for through the process is important to us as well.
When someone is lost due to a wrongful death situation, one of the many emotions that surviving loved ones must process is the fundamental feeling of unfairness. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel that way because it’s true, and the law tries to address it by allowing survivors to file wrongful death claims.
The money, of course, can never give you back what you’ve lost, but it is an attempt to at least acknowledge the situation and reduce its financial impact.
Getting the proper compensation in a wrongful death circumstance is often more challenging than it should be. Injury attorneys can be critical to ensuring that surviving families get the restitution that they deserve.
At Whitlock Law, LLC, we have experience helping families seek what they are owed after a wrongful death. We also take care to see that the process doesn’t become a burden for those already in a fragile state, after what they’ve already suffered. Contact us to discuss your options.
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