When a family has lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, they are often left with not just grief, but also serious financial troubles: a major income source lost, medical bills piling up, funeral expenses to cover. In the aftermath of such a tragedy, what legal options are available for families?
Two options available under the law in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. are wrongful death claims and survival actions. Both offer a way to recover damages from the person liable for a victim’s death, yet they differ in some important ways. Below, we’ll discuss each of these options in depth, explain who can file each type of claim, and talk about when it might be a good idea to talk to a wrongful death attorney.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim centers around the family of the deceased person and allows close family members to file a civil lawsuit for damages. These damages can include the grief and suffering the family has endured, the current and future income they have lost because of their loved one’s death, funeral expenses, and outstanding medical bills associated with the victim’s injuries.
What Is a Survival Action?
A survival action, on the other hand, centers around the suffering of the deceased person (who lawyers and courts often refer to as the “decedent”) rather than the grief and financial losses of the family. In a survival action, the decedent’s estate could recover damages relating to the pain and suffering of the victim and the decedent’s medical bills and lost earnings—similar to what the person could have recovered in a personal injury lawsuit if he or she had survived. The compensation is then dispersed through the deceased person’s estate rather than distributed directly to surviving family members.
Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit or Survival Action?
Exactly who may bring forth a wrongful death claim or survival action depends on the jurisdiction. Typically, a survival action is brought forth by the executor of the decedent’s estate. In a wrongful death claim, possible plaintiffs (the people filing the lawsuit) include the deceased person’s spouse or children, other legally recognized financial dependents, or the parents of an unmarried decedent.
In some cases, the grandparents or siblings of the deceased person may be eligible to pursue either type of legal action. Some jurisdictions, like Washington, D.C., and Maryland, allow the family to pursue both actions, while some states, like Virginia, require plaintiffs to choose one path or the other.
Who Can Be Held Responsible for Wrongful Death?
In a wrongful death case or survival action, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant was liable for the decedent’s death. In legal terms, this means they must prove that the death was caused by careless, negligent, or reckless action by someone who had a “duty of care” to the person who died.
(“Duty of care” is a legal concept that means an individual has an obligation to exercise reasonable care while performing actions that could harm someone else. For instance, all drivers have a fundamental duty to drive safely in order to protect other drivers, so a death caused by careless or reckless driving could be considered a wrongful death and could provide grounds for a wrongful death claim or survival action.)
Other examples of people who could be held liable for a wrongful death include:
- Negligent commercial truckers and trucking companies
- Manufacturers of faulty auto parts that cause crashes (or make a crash worse than it should have been)
- Government agencies that fail to keep roadways safe
- Neglectful or abusive nursing staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities (or anyone else who engages in negligent, harmful behavior while caring for adults and children)
- Physicians who commit malpractice
These are just a few examples. In practice, figuring out who is liable for someone’s death and filing a wrongful death claim or survival action can be very complex, which is why it’s important to talk to an experienced attorney right away if someone you love has died due to another person’s negligent actions.
Perry Charnoff: Trial Attorneys Representing Wrongful Death Victims and Their Families in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, a wrongful death lawsuit or survival action may be able to help you to hold the at-fault parties accountable and recover financial compensation for your losses. The experienced wrongful death lawyers at Perry Charnoff may be able to help. We offer free initial consultations where we can talk about your situation and your legal options, so there’s no risk to contacting our legal team today.
While no amount of financial compensation can make up for the loss of a loved one, pursuing a lawsuit can help provide some sense of closure and help restore the financial stability that many people lose when a loved one dies. At Perry Charnoff, we’re here to fight on behalf of you and your family if someone else’s negligence resulted in a tragic death.
To schedule your free consultation today, give us a call at (703) 291-6650 or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get back to you right away.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.