Losing a loved one unexpectedly will affect every aspect of your life. Your daily schedule, your emotional satisfaction and your family responsibilities will all change when someone close to you dies suddenly. Additionally, your finances may be chaotic if your loved one contributed to your family’s income. If your loved one died due to circumstances involving another’s negligence, recklessness or intentional wrongdoing, some of those financial burdens may rightfully belong on the shoulders of the party that caused your loved one’s death.
West Virginia does have statutes that allow family members to seek compensation when they believe an individual or business is responsible for the death of a family member. Here are a few things that surviving family members need to know about wrongful death claims in West Virginia.
What constitutes wrongful death?
The state law grants the right to pursue a civil lawsuit against a party whose neglect, default or wrongful acts cause the death of someone.
Generally, anytime that someone who died in a tragic situation may have had the right to file a lawsuit if they had survived, a wrongful death lawsuit is possible after their passing. Situations involving negligence, like distracted driving car crashes, criminal activity and even medical malpractice could lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who can file a lawsuit?
Family members are the ones who typically benefit from a wrongful death claim. Surviving spouses and children are often the main beneficiaries of such lawsuits. However, they won’t be the ones filing the lawsuit in civil court.
West Virginia law requires instead that a personal representative or executor of the deceased individual’s estate file the lawsuit.
What losses can contribute to the claim?
West Virginia allows people to seek multiple kinds of compensation. Family members can claim lost wages and benefits, as well as the medical costs to provide someone’s care before their death and funeral service expenses.
The claim can also include the financial impact of losing someone’s service and assistance. The total amount of the lawsuit can even include amounts for the sorrow and anguish of surviving family members and the loss of the companionship and guidance provided by the deceased.
West Virginia also sometimes allows punitive damages, although there is a cap of either $500,000 or four times the compensatory damages awarded.
Is there a time limit for a claim?
One mistake people frequently make in West Virginia wrongful death proceedings is that they wait too long to go to court. State law imposes a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits. With rare exceptions, families will typically need to file a claim within two years after someone dies or lose the option of asking the courts for compensation.