No one in Virginia should have to experience the loss of a loved one in an accident or because of another party’s negligence. These cases can be particularly devastating when the family members realize that the death was entirely preventable. Indeed, their loved one could still be alive if another party had only been more careful or had taken more caution. A wrongful death lawsuit can arise out of a variety of accidents, similar to personal injury lawsuits. As such, many people often have difficulty understanding the differences between wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits, and what those distinctions ultimately mean for filing a claim and allowing the family of the deceased to obtain compensation.
As experienced Richmond wrongful death lawyers, we know it is difficult enough to think about moving forward with a legal claim when you are grieving the untimely death of a loved one. We want to make sure you understand the differences between a wrongful death and a personal injury claim, and how our firm can help you with your case.
Wrongful Death Claims Are Possible When an Injury Victim Does Not Survive to File a Lawsuit Herself
One of the key distinctions between a wrongful death lawsuit and a personal injury lawsuit is the plaintiff. Virginia wrongful death law in general, similar to personal injury law, recognizes that a person who suffers an injury because of another party’s negligence or wrongful act should be able to seek financial compensation for losses—including medical costs as well as lost wages that the injury victim might use to support his or her family. However, personal injury law in Virginia generally only permits the injured person to file a lawsuit. As such, when a person dies from their injuries, Virginia wrongful death law says that the deceased (and his or her close family members) should still be able to seek financial compensation from the at-fault party.
Accordingly, Virginia law (Code of Va. § 8.01-50) allows a beneficiary of the deceased to file a claim in which that beneficiary steps into the shoes, so to speak, of the deceased. Since the deceased cannot file a claim for herself, a beneficiary—such as a surviving spouse, child, grandchild, parent, or sibling—may be able to file a claim against the at-fault party under Virginia’s wrongful death law.
Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Claims is Different
In both personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiff only has a particular amount of time from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. This time window is set by the statute of limitations. Both the wrongful death statute of limitations (Code of Va. § 8.01-244) and the personal injury statute of limitations (Code of Va. § 8.01-243) are two years. To be clear, both types of cases say a plaintiff has two years to file a lawsuit. However, the date on which the “clock” on the claim begins to tick is different in each type of case.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the “clock” will start ticking on the date of the accident that causes the injury. For instance, if a person is seriously injured in a motor vehicle crash, that injury victim will have two years from the date of the car accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. Differently, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the “clock” will begin ticking on the date of the death. For example, and continuing from the car accident example, say a person is serious injured in that same motor vehicle collision. That injury victim is in the hospital for weeks and slips into a coma. After several months, the injury victim dies from the injuries she sustained in the car crash. One of the beneficiaries we described above will have two years from the date of the death—as opposed to two years from the date of the initial injuries that led to the death—to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Contact a Richmond Wrongful Death Attorney
Do you need assistance with a wrongful death lawsuit? One of our Richmond wrongful death attorneys can speak with you today about your questions and concerns. Contact Hundley & Johnson for more information.