Understanding West Virginia Wrongful Death Cases
There is nothing worse than the loss of a loved one. Such a loss can be even more painful when it is due to another’s negligence or wrongdoing. Whether it is because of a careless driver, a negligent doctor, or an employer who puts profits over safety, the loss of a loved one can be both emotionally and financially devastating.
Fortunately, a West Virginia wrongful death claim can at least help with the financial loss caused by the wrongful death of a loved one. A wrongful death claim can also help protect others from similar tragedies by holding wrongdoers financially accountable and deterring future reckless behavior.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
Wrongful death laws allow the estate of a deceased person to file a claim against the person, company, or government legally responsible for his or her death. In West Virginia, wrongful death claims are governed by WV Code §55-7-6 Wrongful death claims are also called wrongful death lawsuits. However, a claim is not technically a lawsuit until a wrongful death complaint is filed in a West Virginia court of law.
Sometimes wrongful death claims are settled before a lawsuit is filed. It is possible that a wrongful death may also lead to a criminal case. That, however, does not stand in the way of the family bringing a civil action for wrongful death, seeking monetary damages.
For immediate help, we invite you to call an experienced wrongful death attorney at West Law Firm for a Free Consultation at 1-877-943-9378 (WEST).
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in West Virginia?
Under West Virginia law, the personal representative of the deceased person’s (decedent) estate is the one who prosecutes the wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate. The personal representative has a duty to represent the estate’s interests and must post a bond to help insure they don’t violate that duty at the expense of the estate and the beneficiaries of the estate.
A decedent’s will may dictate who the personal representative is. If not, someone, often a spouse, will have to apply to be appointed as the administrator of the estate. Here’s a link to an article providing more information about how to get appointed as the administrator of an estate in West Virginia.
Who is Entitled To Receive Compensation from a West Virginia Wrongful Death Claim?
If compensation is recovered with a wrongful death claim, then those who may receive compensation are called beneficiaries. They include the decedent’s:
- Surviving spouse
- Children, stepchildren, and adopted children
- Parents and siblings
- Other dependents (including any people who were financially dependent upon the decedent at the time of his or her death)
- Any person who would otherwise be equitably entitled to share in such distribution
How the compensation is distributed among beneficiaries depends on many factors, including whether the lawsuit was resolved with jury verdict, settlement or bench trial. If the wrongful death lawsuit ends in a jury verdict for the estate, then the jury may direct what proportions of the verdict should be distributed among the beneficiaries.
If a wrongful death claim is settled before a jury verdict, as most such cases are, then the court must decide on how the settlement is distributed based on principles of fairness and justice and the other provisions of the wrongful death statute. In that event, the court will set a hearing and all beneficiaries will be notified.
Typically, at the hearing, the court listens to all beneficiaries who want to speak about the distribution, and he or she will then decide how the compensation from the wrongful death claim should be distributed. Sometimes the beneficiaries reach an agreement before the hearing about how they believe the compensation should be fairly divided. The court will still have to approve that distribution.
How Long Do You Have to File a West Virginia Wrongful Death Suit?
West Virginia law provides that a wrongful death lawsuit generally must be filed within two years from the date of death. Failing to file within that limitation period may result in an inability to obtain any damages resulting from the wrongful death.
It is important to note that the two-year limitations period has a number of exceptions, especially in medical malpractice lawsuits. In order to make sure that you know how long you have to file a wrongful death action in your particular circumstances, you should consult with a an experienced West Virginia wrongful death attorney
What Compensation is Available in Wrongful Death lawsuits?
There are two primary types of losses, also called damages, in any wrongful death lawsuit. The first is the intangible and emotional losses that stem from the death of a loved one. Those types of compensable damages include but are not limited to:
- Mental Anguish
- Loss of society
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of comfort, guidance, and advice.
The second type of damages is the financial loss caused by the wrongful death. According to West Virginia law, compensable damages shall include but are not limited to the following:
- Compensation for reasonably expected loss of income of the decedent
- Compensation for the loss of services, protection, care and assistance that would have been likely provided by the decedent
- Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent related to his/her injury resulting in death
- Reasonable funeral expenses
Finally, a court may award punitive damages in a wrongful death case in limited circumstances where the defendant’s conduct is especially egregious. Punitive damages are meant to punish the responsible party, or parties, for intentional, reckless or malicious wrongdoing.
Why File a Wrongful Death Case?
Of course the unexpected loss of a loved one can cause a family extreme financial hardship, and wrongful death claims can at least help reduce this financial hardship. Also, as mentioned above, a wrongful death claim can also help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future by holding wrongdoers financially accountable and deterring future reckless behavior. The deterrent effect of wrongful death claims are often important to families who have lost a loved one. Preventing similar tragedies and thus protecting others can help bring some meaning to the loss of their loved one.
West Law Firm’s West Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyers Are Here to Help
Because West Virginia’s wrongful death laws are complicated and because wrongful death claims involve the worst imaginable losses, having a lawyer on your side who is experienced in wrongful death cases will help ensure you and your family’s rights are protected and any wrongdoer is held accountable.
If you have lost a loved one due to a careless driver, greedy trucking company, or someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, we invite you to call us today for a Free Consultation. Our toll free number is 1.877.943.9378 (WEST). There’s also No Fee unless and until we recover compensation for you and your family. The West Law Firm is here to help.