Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Fatal accidents affect not only the drivers involved but also their loved ones. After a person dies in a car accident, their family may be left with emotional and financial consequences from the crash. To provide closure and alleviate their financial burden, the deceased’s family may choose to file a lawsuit against the responsible driver. If you are considering a personal injury lawsuit, it is important to understand the difference between a wrongful death and a survival action, which are different types of lawsuits under Virginia personal injury law.

For example, as a news article recently reported, a Rockville, Maryland fatal accident claimed the life of one person. Local police observed a sedan speeding and turned on their emergency equipment. Shortly thereafter, they encountered a two-vehicle crash between the sedan and another vehicle. According to local investigators, the sedan likely collided with the other vehicle while making a turn. Sadly, the other driver died at the scene. The sedan driver fled from the scene, but police later apprehended him.

What Are the Differences Between Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Survival Actions?

In Virginia, there are two types of lawsuits you can bring after a fatal accident. A wrongful death lawsuit compensates the deceased victim’s family for the harm they have suffered from the accident. A court will award damages for pain and suffering, which compensates for the emotional and psychological harm resulting from the accident. A wrongful death lawsuit can also allow the victim’s family to recover economic damages, including the deceased’s lost future earnings. Conversely, survival actions compensate the deceased victim as if they had survived. The deceased’s personal representative files the survival action, but the damages award will go to their family. The damages recoverable in a survival action are the same as the deceased could recover had they survived.

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If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident, you may not know what to do next. While bringing a lawsuit is probably the last thing on your mind, it can begin to provide closure and permit compensation for the emotional harm you have suffered. The recent Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse provoked conversations about the liability that could result from the deaths of six construction workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland led to construction workers’ deaths and untold property damage throughout the area. As CNN reported, eight people were on the bridge when it collapsed after a ship struck the bridge. Two people were rescued, but six construction workers were sadly presumed dead after an extensive search and rescue operation. Before it hit the bridge, the ship’s lights flickered as it veered off course. The crew signaled a “mayday” before crashing, altering authorities to prevent incoming traffic from crossing the bridge. Sadly, they could not prevent harm to the people who were already on the bridge, whose families continue to mourn.

Can the Victims’ Families Sue for Wrongful Death?

The victims’ families may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, likely against the owner of the ship that ran into the bridge. Maryland law allows a deceased victim’s spouse, parents, and/or children to file a wrongful death action against the party responsible for the victim’s death. To prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit, the person bringing the suit must prove all the elements of negligence the deceased would have to prove if they survived the accident. Specifically, wrongful death plaintiffs must prove the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, breached that duty through their actions or failure to act, caused the accident, and that the victim died as a consequence. Plaintiffs must prove these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it was at least 51% likely that the defendant’s negligence led to the victim’s death.

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Even driving in clear conditions can be dangerous with a lapse of attention, mechanical failure, or unexpected actions from other drivers, pedestrians, or even animals. But when a driver is driving unsafely by recklessly disregarding the safety of other drivers or their passengers, including driving under the influence, tragedy is unfortunately even more likely to strike.

In Virginia, the chance of being in a crash due to alcohol-related reasons is one in six over an individual’s life. In 2019, 32% of traffic fatalities were alcohol-related, and nearly 19 thousand people were convicted of DUI.

According to a recent news report, a front-seat passenger died from life-threatening injuries sustained when the vehicle the passenger was riding in hit a utility pole at 7:15 PM. The car, a Volvo, was the only vehicle involved in the accident. Observers say there was no evident reason for the car to leave the roadway and strike the pole and that the driver of the vehicle was under the influence of alcohol. The driver was arrested at the scene, and the crash is currently under investigation.

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While death is an inevitable part of life, the unexpected death of a loved one because of another’s negligence often exacerbates the trauma one experiences. Those who have experienced the loss of a loved one under these circumstances should consult with a Virginia wrongful death attorney.

Wrongful death claims refer to lawsuits filed by the family members of someone who suffered fatal injuries because of another’s negligence or reckless conduct. These claims are similar to other personal injury lawsuits, except for the parties and damage calculations. Under the state’s Wrongful Death Statute, a personal representative of the deceased’s estate or the party appointed by will or the state may bring a lawsuit. The law entitled the spouse or children of the victim to collect damages. However, certain other dependent family members may be permitted to collect damages. Generally, these parties include parents, siblings, and other close family members.

Wrongful death cases typically stem from motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, and products liability cases. For instance, news sources recently reported that a 20-year-old man suffered fatal injuries in a Virginia accident. A pickup truck driver veered into the centerline of a bridge and slammed into the man. The man’s vehicle flipped over before finally coming to a rest on its wheel. Tragically, the 20-year-old died, and his passenger and the pickup truck driver suffered severe injuries.

When loved ones have been tragically killed in a fatal Virginia car crash, the family will often want to hold the responsible party accountable. Their best option is to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and seek monetary damages. In Virginia, there are strict requirements the family must meet in order to be awarded damages by a jury. While damages can never bring a deceased family member back, they can help the family to financially recuperate from their loss while they emotionally grieve.

Recently, in an accident in Virginia Beach, a pedestrian was struck on Northampton Boulevard by a car. According to a local news report, the pedestrian was walking across the road when the driver hit him. He died at the scene, and the driver of the vehicle was charged with possession of narcotics and various traffic offenses.

In accidents similar to the one above, the family of the deceased can bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. In doing so, they seek damages for the death of their loved one. Damages widely vary depending on the facts of the case. In Virginia, there is no cap on damages—meaning, a jury can award any amount of money to the plaintiff it sees fit. Their only guideline is to agree upon an amount they deem “fair and just.” The damages amount can include, but are not limited to, some of the following: sorrow and mental anguish, loss of income of the deceased, hospital expenses, and funeral expenses.

The Virginia Supreme Court recently affirmed a lower court’s decision in a wrongful death claim stemming from a single-vehicle accident that took the lives of both occupants. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff, the administrator of the estate of one of the occupants, filed a lawsuit against several parties, including the other occupant of the vehicle. The lawsuit contends that the other occupant fell asleep at the wheel of his tractor-trailer, thereby causing the accident that killed the plaintiff. In response, the defendants argued that the plaintiff was the driver.

On appeal, the court reviewed several of the plaintiff’s arguments, including that the lower court erred in excluding portions of the medical examiner’s autopsy report and the plaintiff’s experts’ opinions regarding the driver’s identity. The plaintiff sought to introduce evidence from the Chief Medical examiner, where she concluded the cause of the defendant’s death was blunt force trauma. Her report relied on the police report to tell her who was driving the tractor-trailer in the case.

The plaintiff argues that under Virginia Code § 8.01- 390.2, medical examiner reports shall be received as evidence in court. Therefore, although the examiner’s report stems from her opinions based on the police report, it should be admissible. Statutory interpretation requires a court to review the plain language of a statute unless the terms are ambiguous. In this case, the court found that nothing in the statute provides that a medical examiner is permitted to make an opinion on an ultimate fact in issue. Further, the statute does not permit medical examiners to base opinions and facts from information garnered through lay testimony. Therefore, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the statute should be construed to admit the medical examiner’s opinion solely because the opinion is in a report.

Car accidents in Virginia are dangerous, and unfortunately, sometimes lead to death. In cases like this, the last thing on the family’s mind is to bring a lawsuit. However, in cases where there is a party responsible for the incident and it could have been prevented, their loved ones should pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. This can assist in their financial recovery—especially if the deceased provided the primary earnings for the family—as they are also emotionally grieving. Below is more information about wrongful death lawsuits and the necessary elements a plaintiff would need to prove to be successful in the case.

Recently, a man was killed in Powhatan County after a three-vehicle crash. According to a news report, a car was heading west when it slowed down to make a left turn and was struck from behind. This vehicle was then hit by another car, which ran off the road, spun and struck some trees. The man whose vehicle was struck from behind unfortunately passed away after the incident. Besides the man’s death, his son remains in the hospital and individuals in the third vehicle were also airlifted to the hospital. The driver who caused the accident, a teenager, has been charged with reckless driving.

In situations where a family member is killed, it is likely that criminal charges will be pursued—like in this case. However, the family of the deceased loved one should still bring charges to hold the responsible party financially liable for the incident. In Virginia, a wrongful death is one caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party. This means that the plaintiff in the case—the spouse, child, parent, or any other relative of the deceased—must show that if it were not for the responsible party’s action, their loved one would not have died.

We trust our doctors and health care providers to keep us safe—especially when we’re at our most vulnerable and not feeling well. This, however, is not always the case, and instances of Virginia medical malpractice can have serious consequences. When such incidents cause injuries or even death, those who are responsible must be held accountable.

In a recent Virginia Supreme Court opinion, the court had to consider the merits of a wrongful death claim. The deceased was admitted to a local Virginia hospital because she was experiencing nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. After an abdominal CT scan, multiple doctors examined the decedent’s results and eventually sent her home. Later in Kentucky, she was admitted to the hospital again when she experienced severe abdominal pain. The doctors at this hospital performed an initial surgery, which was followed by multiple other surgeries to treat other stomach and abdominal issues in the following two months. Eventually, the decedent died “as a result of complications directly related and attributable” to the initial surgery she underwent in Kentucky.

Following the decedent’s passing, the executor of her estate brought claims in both states. In Virginia, he brought wrongful death claims against the doctors who initially treated the deceased and discharged her. The executor of the decedent’s estate argued that the Virginia hospital and the physicians who treated the deceased were negligent and their failure to identify and treat the deceased’s abdominal issues was a proximate cause of her death. The lower court dismissed the executor’s claims, finding that because he received a settlement in Kentucky, he was ineligible to receive damages from a wrongful death claim in Virginia.

In any Virginia personal injury claim, a plaintiff not only has to prove that the defendant acted with negligence or intent, but also that the plaintiff sustained compensable damages. In some cases, a defendant’s conduct may be so egregious that the plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are generally very substantial, as they are designed to deter similar future conduct.

In one recent case, a court upheld an award of punitive damages of over $4 million in a nursing home neglect case. The plaintiffs brought their claims against a nursing facility after three residents died at the facilities in a “vent unit.” The vent unit was designed for ventilator-dependent patients. The plaintiffs claimed that the residents died due to inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies in the vent unit.

The evidence presented indicated that one resident’s breathing apparatus was detached without any alarm going off.  Another resident was found dead with his ventilator and its alarms turned off. The third resident’s tracheostomy tube was not properly replaced after it had been removed by nursing home staff. The plaintiffs claimed that all three deaths were caused by inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies.

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Punitive damages are awards paid to a plaintiff exclusively for the purpose of punishing a defendant above and beyond paying for the financial costs and other harms suffered by the plaintiff. These damages are often awarded to prevent the specific defendant, or others who may be in a similar or analogous position, from repeating the type of behavior that led to the award of punitive damages.

Juries may be given the option to award punitive damages in certain personal injury, wrongful death, and medical malpractice cases when a plaintiff alleges that the defendant committed especially reprehensible behavior in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. For punitive damages to be awarded in these cases, a defendant must have not only been negligent but also behaved in a manner that warrants the additional punishment. These damages are rare but are not unheard of in certain types of cases.

Covering Up Knowledge of a Dangerous Product and Continuing to Market the Product Can Result in Punitive Damages

An example of the types of behaviors that justify punitive damages is illustrated by a recent jury verdict reached against the well-known health care products company Johnson & Johnson. A news article discussing the verdict explains that the jury found that Johnson & Johnson not only marketed a dangerous talc-based powder for women to use as a feminine care product, but also knew there was a high likelihood that the use of such powder on or near a woman’s genitals could result in ovarian cancer. The jury agreed that despite their knowledge of these risks, the company continued to market the product to women.

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