Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in West Virginia
By Jeff Robinette
When a fatal accident is caused by another party’s wrongful action, certain family members of the victim may seek legal recovery from those who are responsible. This type of lawsuit is referred to as a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death case allows a plaintiff to seek recovery for financial injury. For example, a wrongful death award can help compensate a family who has lost a breadwinner or major source of support.
A West Virginia widow’s wrongful death suit exemplifies situations in which wrongful death lawsuits are typically used. The woman lost her husband to a rear-end accident involving a tractor-trailer, and she filed a lawsuit against the drivers of the commercial truck and the company that employed the drivers and owned the truck.
Fatal Truck Accident and Wrongful Death Suit
The accident that killed the woman’s husband tragically occurred this summer. The woman’s husband was stopped at a toll near Pax in Fayette County, West Virginia when a tractor-trailer sped into the man’s vehicle. The husband was stopped behind a different semi and the force of the collision instantly killed him. The woman was not only a wife, but she is also a mother of two sons, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.
The semi that crashed into the husband was owned by a large carrier and the semi was operated by a driver and another driver who was a passenger in the cab at the time of the accident. In her wrongful death suit, the widow and mother asserted the two drivers failed to operate the semi in a reasonable manner by failing to keep a proper lockout, exceeding the speed limit and failing to maintain control of the vehicle. The woman seeks compensatory and punitive damages and reimbursement for attorney fees.
Overview of Wrongful Death Suit in West Virginia
West Virginia like every state has its own wrongful death law, and in order to bring a successful wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must meet the following elements:
The death of a human being
Caused by another’s negligence
The survival of family members who suffer monetary injury because of the death
The appointment of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate
Wrongful death claims are usually brought by surviving spouses, children, and sometimes parents. The awards for damages of wrongful death suits belong to the estate of the person who died, the decedent, and can be distributed to different parties according to the decedent’s will.
In a wrongful death lawsuit financial injury is the main measure of damages, and financial injury usually includes the loss of support and services, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and even loss of prospect of inheritance. Any financial damages awarded for wrongful death must be fair compensation for the financial injury that resulted from the family member’s death. Any medical or funeral expenses paid before receipt of the award may also be recovered.
Determination of Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit
A jury determines financial injury to family members by reviewing the earning capacity of the decedent, age, life expectancy, health, circumstances of the family members, and other factors as directed by the judge. The jury determines the amount of damages after hearing all of the evidence, but the jury’s award may be increased or decreased by the judge.
Punitive damages may also be awarded in wrongful death cases, and punitive damages are normally awarded in a case of serious or malicious wrongdoing meant to punish the responsible party and to deter other parties from similar action. From beginning to end all of the stages of a wrongful death suit are complicated. Therefore it’s important to obtain legal guidance from a personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death suits if you have wrongfully lost a loved one.
Jeff Robinette is an award-winning West Virginia Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney with over 30 years of experience handling catastrophic injury cases. Mr. Robinette started his career working for insurance companies, and he now uses that experience to exclusively represent the injured and their families.
Morgantown, WV is the home base for the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, but Mr. Robinette and his skilled team represent clients all over West Virginia.
Mr. Robinette is the author of three landmark books, Collision Care: A Guide for West Virginia Car Accidents; Righting the Wrong: A Guide for West Virginia Personal Injury Cases (including workplace injuries), and Beside Still Waters: A Guide for West Virginia Wrongful Death Claims.