If you’ve recently lost a loved one due to wrongful death in West Virginia (WV), it’s likely that you’re not just dealing with the grieving process. You may also be trying to pay medical, funeral, and other bills with less income. The last thing you need is to spend hours canvassing the Internet, searching for credible information on wrongful death law just to find out about your legal options. In this blog, our experienced WV wrongful death lawyers give you straight information about the seven questions most people ask.
Use this blog to learn about the basics. And although we know that no amount of money can ever replace your lost loved one, acting quickly is critical. In nearly all cases, the law of the Mountain State places a hard deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit: two years.
The Seven Questions Most People Ask WV Wrongful Death Lawyers
1. What Makes a Death Wrongful under WV Law?
When you’re faced with the loss of a loved one, especially after a fatal accident, the death often seems “wrong.” But there’s a difference between that feeling and a tragic death that could be considered a “wrongful death” under state law. Only the latter may result in a successful wrongful death action against a wrongdoer.
In WV, a death is considered legally wrongful when a person’s death (the “decedent”) is caused by the wrongful act or conduct of another. Bradshaw v. Soulsby, 558 S.E.2d 681, 687 (W. Va. 2001).
There is no list of causes that makes a death wrongful, but here are several examples of circumstances often seen by our experienced WV wrongful death lawyers:
- Automobile, truck, and motorcycle crashes, including drunk driving and distracted driving
- Bicycle and pedestrian accidents
- Chemical exposure, substance exposure, and poisoning
- Defective consumer products, such as cars
- Fires and explosions
- Medical malpractice and mistakes, including birth injuries and medication errors
- Recreational accidents, often suffered on four-wheelers or boats or in swimming pools
- Workplace accidents caused intentionally or recklessly
Unfortunately, family members who have lost a loved one often don’t realize that someone else caused or contributed to the death. As a result, many wrongful death lawsuits go unfiled.
2. What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case in WV?
W. Va. Code §§ 55-7-5 to -8a set forth WV’s law on wrongful death. Here is the actual language of the law that explains when a wrongful death lawsuit is allowed in WV:
Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default, and the act, neglect or default is such as would (if death had not ensued) have entitled the party injured to maintain an action to recover damages in respect thereof[.]
The Supreme Court of West Virginia has indicated that there are two elements to a wrongful death claim in the Mountain State: (1) “that a person has died”; and (2) “that the death was caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default.” See Graham v. Asbury, 420 S.E.2d 567 (W. Va. 1992).
3. Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in WV?
WV law very clearly defines who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit: “the personal representative of [the] deceased person who has been duly appointed.” However, this is a different issue than who may recover damages under WV law. West Virginia Code § 55-7-6 allows a judge or jury to direct how wrongful death damages will be distributed to any of the following people:
- A surviving spouse
- Surviving children, including adopted children and stepchildren
- Anyone who was financially dependent on the person at the time of death
4. What Damages May Be Recovered by WV Wrongful Death Lawyers?
WV law permits a broad recovery of damages in the event of a wrongful death, specifically allowing for damages that “may seem fair and just.” This includes both monetary and nonmonetary damages.
In a WV wrongful death lawsuit, monetary damages are tied to expenses and concrete losses. They include the following:
- Past, present, and future lost wages and benefits
- Medical, care, treatment, and hospital expenses related to the accident
- Reasonable funeral expenses
- Money to repair or replace damaged property, such as a car that was destroyed in the fatal crash
Experienced WV wrongful death lawyers are also adept at recovering non-monetary damages for their clients. These damages take skill to clearly establish and quantify. They are intended to compensate those left behind for intangible losses like these:
- Sorrow and mental anguish
- Loss of care, protection, and assistance
- Loss of companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice
5. When Must a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Filed in WV?
WV law places a strict time limit on when a wrongful death claim must be filed. Nearly always, a lawsuit for wrongful death must be filed within two years of the date of death. Exceptions are rare and are typically recognized only by experienced WV wrongful death lawyers. In addition, after the death of a loved one, medical, funeral, and other expenses tend to pile up quickly. For these reasons, it’s important to contact an experienced, trustworthy WV wrongful death attorney right away.
6. What If I Can’t Afford to Pay a WV Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Most WV families who need the services of a wrongful death attorney cannot afford to pay legal fees or costs when they are incurred. That’s why when Hendrickson & Long takes your case, we cover the costs up front—things like filing fees, lawsuit expenses, and even expert fees. You pay nothing unless we recover money for you.
7. Why Should I Choose Hendrickson & Long as My WV Wrongful Death Lawyers?
Our attorneys have handled hundreds of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of WV families. That means that we have helped people just like you face the ultimate loss. But we know more than just the legal landscape. We’ve tried cases and argued motions in courthouses all over the state. We know the judges and court staff who work there. And we also know the insurance companies that deal with thousands of WV wrongful death claims.
In addition, we’ve been recognized by outside agencies, our peers, and even our opponents as experts in personal injury and wrongful death law. Here’s a sampling of some of our awards:
- Top ratings by Super Lawyers, an honor reserved for only five percent of lawyers nationwide
- Recognition in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Law Firms
You don’t have to try to learn wrongful death law on your own. Learn about how the law of the Mountain State applies to your circumstances by taking advantage of a free consultation with Hendrickson & Long’s WV wrongful death lawyers. Just fill out our Contact form or call us at 304-346-5500.