Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Virginia?

Authored by Allan Siegel

Wrongful death, as a legal term, is used to describe any situation in which another's negligence, wrongful act, or breach of duty causes a person's death. When the actions of another – be they an individual or corporate entity – causes your loved one's death, you may have the right to pursue legal action against the at-fault party in order to hold them accountable and financially liable for the damages suffered by you and your family.

In many ways, wrongful death claims represent the intersection of our personal lives and the American judicial system. Losing a loved is never an easy experience, and it is one that will always be marked by grief, suffering, and emotional turbulence – all of which are tremendously personal. Although death is something that we must all inevitably confront, there are times when the circumstances surrounding loss and tragedy make for more intense emotions. Unforeseen and needless loss, as well as legal battles, rank high among the some of the most difficult experiences life has to offer

During such difficult times, dealing with an unfamiliar and impersonal legal system can be challenging and entirely unwanted. Our society and our judicial system have created pathways for families to obtain justice and compensation for their losses, but navigating these legal avenues can be anything by simple. When you also consider the fact that these claims are rife with obscure legal concepts and are often disputed aggressively by defendants, it is no wonder why many find wrongful death cases overwhelming.

Fortunately, our Northern Virginia personal injury attorneys are equipped with the experience and the passion to guide families through the wrongful death claim process step by step. The first matter that must be addressed in these situations, however, is determining which beneficiaries are eligible to file claims.

Are you eligible to file a wrongful death claim?

Section 8.01 – 53 of the Code of Virginia outlines the procedures for filing a wrongful death claim. Under this statute, certain family members are permitted to bring legal action after another has caused the death of their loved one. Eligible family members are typically categorized into classes of beneficiaries. Classes are as follows:

  • The surviving spouse, children of the deceased, and children of any deceased child of the deceased (grandchildren); if there are none of these beneficiaries, then damages may be awarded to:
  • Parents, brothers, and sisters of the decent. This class also includes any other relative who is a member of the decedent's household and who is primarily dependent on the decedent.
  • If a decedent passes and leaves a surviving spouse and a parent or parents – but no child or grandchildren – then courts may distribute damages amongst these beneficiaries; or
  • Courts may distribute damages amongst parents, siblings, or dependents of the decedent.
  • In the event that none of these beneficiaries exist, courts will determine which relatives or heirs are eligible to obtain damages according to a procedure known as a course of descents.

At times when families may still be reeling from the sudden loss of their loved one, deciphering the many legal elements of the wrongful death claim process – including who is eligible to file a claim and how damages may be distributed – can be a challenging task. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Northern Virginia wrongful death attorneys aim to alleviate our clients' concerns by handling all aspects of their claim, providing them with genuine support, and being readily available at all times. As these claims can also vary considerably from case to case, we place an emphasis on addressing your needs and legal issues on a personalized basis.

When families come to our firm during their times of need, we make it a priority to fully explain their rights, inform them of their eligibility to pursue legal action, and clarify precisely how we intend to fight on their behalf. If you have questions regarding your eligibility to file a wrongful death claim in Virginia, or if you wish to discuss your case personally with a member of our legal team, please do not hesitate to contact our firm for the compassionate and experienced representation you deserve.