Is an Injury Lawyer The Same Thing as a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Virginia?
In a typical squirrelly lawyer way, my answer is both yes and no as I think about my career over 26 years in personal injury and wrongful death law. I remember the first time I heard a client say to me ‘oh I knew that you did personal injury cases, but I didn’t think you did wrongful death cases.’ It didn’t dawn on me that the average consumer including my own past client wouldn’t understand that generally speaking the two fields are close cousins. Most lawyers who specialize in personal injury law will be willing to assist a family whose loved one has been killed as a result of the negligence of someone else.
The reason that they’re related is that death in the eyes of the law is just a different type of harm or damage that can come from the same negligent act. So really as an automobile accident attorney or a truck wreck lawyer, I’m really a negligence lawyer. Meaning what I’m typically trying to prove is that someone was at fault and caused a harm to someone else who was free from fault. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care. So whether the lack of ordinary care led to a person who died or a person who was just severely injured the liability part of the case is similar if not the same.
On the other hand, not all attorneys who do personal injury particularly those who are not highly specialized will have worked on many wrongful death cases. Wrongful death is different and not just because the level of harm is worse. Rather there is a whole body of law of damages that’s specific to each state although often similar between places like Virginia and North Carolina that tell the court how to handle a wrongful death case. An attorney needs to be familiar with issues like who is able to bring the case of wrongful death given that the person killed is no longer there to do so. The answer to that is the personal representative is typically an administrator appointed by the court. The wrongful death attorney in Virginia must know the right questions to ask the family to figure out who gets the money which is not necessarily the same person as the administrator who brings the suit.
The basic answer to that question is different family members pending upon who survives the person who got killed like a spouse and if there is no widow or widower then children are typically the sole takers in Virginia and if there is no surviving spouse and children then you go to slightly more distant relatives like parents and brothers and sisters of the deceased. But well beyond this corn book law, which hopefully anybody learned even if they didn’t go to UV Law School like I did, there are many important subtleties of how to successfully pursue a wrongful death case that only an experienced veteran wrongful death attorney really knows best how to do.
There are issues of proof of future wages and earning capacity. On the economic side there is also proof through experts like an economist of the value of the services that the person who was killed provided to their family that now have to be or may need to be replaced by paying somebody to do those things. For example, if the husband or wife who was killed regularly did car or house repair, yard work, provided childcare or any number of normal household tasks the family is entitled to try to claim for the value of those services to the family which can be a really high economic number.
Proving the sorrow loss and loss of companionship, advice, and love from the person who died to the survivors is more complicated than you might think. Sometimes it requires an expert in psychology to explain the nature of the relationships and how those relationships play out in the future as a result of the loss of the person who was taken by the negligence of someone else. Additionally, just really good skills of interviewing and presenting evidence are necessary to bring home to the jury just how difficult life will be not only this week and year but in the future for the family.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer has thought through these issues and hopefully is able to ask the right questions to really explain how difficult it will be in the future for a daughter not have her dad at a wedding or how scary it is for an adult child when they get to the same age as the person who died and they have an irrational fear of dying at that age themselves, which is extremely common. All of these kinds of issues make an experienced wrongful death lawyer different from and separate than just somebody who can help a car accident victim. And because wrongful death is blessedly not that common, not all attorneys have had deep experience as I and my law firm have had at handling wrongful death cases and the special issues that arise.