For many, the unexpected death of a loved one is the most painful experience imaginable. When the death was caused by negligence that could have been prevented, many families suffer even more. Wrongful death claims help surviving loved ones seek damages for their losses.
A wrongful death claim is a civil claim for damages brought by the deceased person’s estate. These claims are brought against parties that caused the death, which may include a motorist and their insurer, an employer who provided dangerous working conditions, the manufacturer of a defective product or any other party that negligently caused death.
However, not all unexpected deaths give rise to a legally valid wrongful death claim. To recover damages and hold an individual or entity legally responsible, that party must have acted negligently or improperly. It is possible to bring a civil wrongful death claim even if the responsible party is facing criminal charges. A civil claim allows the decedent’s estate to bring the case directly and allows the deceased person’s survivors to collect monetary damages for their losses.
Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Claim?
In West Virginia, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate is responsible for bringing the claim, typically with a lawyer’s assistance. Family members who may be entitled to a share of the damages include the decedent’s:
- Surviving spouse
- Children, stepchildren or adopted children
- Parents and siblings
- Any other relatives who were dependent on the deceased person’s income at the time of death
What Kind Of Compensation Can Grieving Loved Ones Recover?
West Virginia state law outlines the damages that can be sought in a wrongful death claim. Some are meant to compensate surviving loved ones for financial losses, including:
- Lost wages and benefits
- Potential future earnings based on the decedent’s reasonable expected earning capacity
- Medical bills for any treatment related to the illness or injury that caused death
- Loss of services provided by the decedent (for example, if they cared for a family member)
- Funeral expenses
- Any lost or damaged property related to the claim
More than the paycheck or services, however, most families mourn their lost loved ones’ intangible contributions. West Virginia law also allows for damages based on these losses, including:
- Pain, sorrow and mental anguish
- Loss of support and guidance for the decedent’s children
- Loss of companionship and comfort
If the responsible party acted negligently, there may also be punitive damages available. As the name suggests, punitive damages are meant to punish the liable party for their negligent behavior and discourage similar conduct in the future.
How Long Does A Wrongful Death Case Take?
Each case is unique. The duration of a wrongful death case depends on many variables, including the number of parties involved, the facts of the case, the complexity of the evidence and whether the case goes to trial. A typical case takes between a year and 18 months to resolve.
While the statute of limitations in West Virginia is two years from the date of death, it is possible to extend that deadline under certain rules of procedure. However, it is usually in the family’s best interests to begin working with a lawyer as soon as possible to preserve their rights and build the strongest possible case. The right attorneys can take on the legal and financial burden of bringing the case so the decedent’s loved ones have time to process and grieve.
The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.