The death of a family member is always hard, but especially so when the person died unnecessarily — that is, they would still be alive except for someone else’s negligence. Then the grief and sense of loss are compounded by the feeling that your family has suffered an injustice. It is fundamentally unfair if a reckless person, business or government agency can cause your beloved spouse, parent or child’s death without consequences.
A criminal conviction can help you feel like justice has been served, but it won’t make up for the things the negligent party took away from you and the deceased. And prosecutors are not always able to pursue charges after someone is killed in a car accident, due to medical malpractice or for other reasons. This is why many grieving families in Virginia find their right to pursue wrongful death litigation is so important. It can help relieve the financial pressure caused by the death of a family member by making up for their lost past and future income, hospital bills and funeral expenses. A wrongful death settlement or verdict also holds the defendant responsible for the physical and emotional pain both the victim and their loved ones experienced.
Making a case for wrongful death in Virginia
But before a wrongful death claim can succeed, the plaintiff (almost always the personal representative of the estate) must prove the following:
- A person died
- As the result of another person’s intent to cause harm or negligence
- The deceased is survived by family members who suffered and/or are suffering monetary loss as a result of the death
- The deceased’s estate has an appointed personal representative
At trial, the plaintiff and their personal injury attorney must prove these four factors by the preponderance of the evidence — meaning, convincing the judge or jury that the defendant more likely than not caused the wrongful death. This is a lower standard of proof than what Virginia criminal courts use. Often, someone not convicted of a crime in connection with someone else’s death can be made to pay compensation in civil court.