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WRONGFUL DEATH CASES IN CAR ACCIDENTS
The sudden, unexpected wrongful death of a family member as a result of a motor accident is emotionally and, in most cases, financially debilitating. A purpose in hiring an attorney to pursue a Wrongful Death Claim as a result of another's negligence is to lessen the financial impact but attempting to recover money damages. Money is unfortunately the only thing a Judge or Jury can award. Another word for Money in the law is the term "Damages".
A civil action brought by the survivors -- or the estate -- of a person who died due to the negligence or intentional actions of another is called a “wrongful death” case.
There are 2 types of Damages in Wrongful Death Cases.
The first type allows recovery of damages experienced by the person who died from the moment of the negligent act causing the death, until the time of the decedent’s death. For example, in the case of a pedestrian or truck accident, this would cover the time from the accident took place until the time the injuries cause the person to die - hours or weeks after the accident. The particular damages in this category might include medical expenses, the person's pain and suffering during this time, the person's mental and physical pain and suffering, their lost wages from their occupation, and funeral and burial expenses.
The second type involves the heirs of the person who dies - Spouses, Children, Parents - also known as "Next of Kin". These type of damages is meant to compensate the family survivors for their financial losses. These damages are generally intended to replace the value of money the deceased would have earned were it not for the unexpected death. It includes the lost wages that would have been earned until the deceased’s anticipated retirement. There are also damages for the loss of companionship and guidance.
The third type of Damages involves Punitive Damages. Depending on the circumstances of the person's death, courts can also award punitive damages to the surviving family members. Punitive damages can be awarded where the defendant engaged in a particularly reckless or egregious type of conduct resulting in the deceased person's death. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and to deter similar behavior in the future. For example, if the person was struck by a Drunk Driver and the Perpetrator's Alcohol Level at time was .15 or above at the time of the Crash, Virginia Code Section 8.01-44.5 provides:
"A defendant’s conduct shall be deemed sufficiently willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others when the evidence proves that (i) when the incident causing the injury or death occurred, the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.15 grams or more per 210 liters of breath; (ii) at the time the defendant began drinking alcohol, or during the time he was drinking alcohol, he knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle, engine or train would be impaired, or when he was operating a motor vehicle he knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired; and (iii) the defendant’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury to or death of the plaintiff.
However, when a defendant has unreasonably refused to submit to a test of his blood alcohol content as required by § 18.2-268.2, a defendant’s conduct shall be deemed sufficiently willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others when the evidence proves that (i) when the incident causing the injury or death occurred thedefendant was intoxicated, which may be established by evidence concerning the conduct or condition of the defendant; (ii) at the time the defendant began drinking alcohol, or during the time he was drinking alcohol, he knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired; and (iii) the defendant’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury to the plaintiff or death of the plaintiff’s decedent. A certified copy of a court’s determination of unreasonable refusal pursuant to § 18.2-268.3 shall be prima facie evidence that the defendant unreasonably refused to submit to the test."
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