Myths About Virginia Wrongful Death Cases
I have studied with a great teacher about grief and wrongful death. Mila Tecala together with a friend of mine who is an experienced northern Virginia trial attorney wrote a great book helping lawyers understand more about important aspects of wrongful death. I have not only read and re‑read the book numerous times, but also had the pleasure of spending hours thinking about it and seeing how these issues play out with different families in wrongful death cases in Hampton Rhodes, Virginia and beyond.
I learned some of the myths about grief in the context of wrongful death include the following;
1. Grief is a lifelong process that does not have an end point. Typically the insurance defense attorney will want to try to confuse the jury with a misconception about how grief works. If your loved one, especially your mother or father or husband or wife is killed suddenly and unexpectedly in a preventable tragic death, you don’t just get over it. The grieving process is far more complicated and long-lasting than the mourning process which may involve the funeral and some of the immediate aftermath of the death. Even if the jury trial is a year or two years after the loved one has been taken, the pain is often not any less at that time than it was the day that it happened. In fact, sometimes it takes a really long time to work through all the stages of grief. The process also often involves flare-ups of pain for the survivors at key moments in their lives like on major occasions like their own birthday or the birthday of the decedent or a particular holiday that they loved and shared together like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Likewise, any major trauma that happens in the future to the surviving widow, for example, will bring up lots of difficult feelings like would it have been different if my husband were still here to help me deal with this and lots of other emotional and psychological challenges. Unless these issues in the continuing nature of the grieving process are brought to the attention of the jury or insurance company decision-maker they may not have really thought it through and may have just believed the myth that after a certain period of time grief ends.
2. Children don’t really grieve as much as adults and are more likely to just bounce back over time. In fact, the grief of a child is often even worse than an adult, whether they’re an infant that’s so young that they don’t fully understand death yet and may think that their parent is going to be coming back from a long trip or a deep sleep, or if they are an adolescent who can comprehend what happened. As the child grows up through each phase of their lives they are going to have to face the rest of their childhood and the rest of their life as a person who lost their parent or brother and sister at an early age. Lots of the challenges, particularly those of being a teenage or young adult, are made much more difficult without having the love, support and comfort of a parent. It could be argued that children’s grief is more typically worse, longer and more complicated or certainly as bad as an adult who suffers a loss of life of a loved one. Often it requires a different kind of investigation to figure out all of the affects of a child when their parent has been killed in a wrongful death situation. Teachers and others from school and clergy at a church may have special insights into how the child is coping or not coping so well with their new life after their mom or dad was taken.
Another myth is that if a statutory beneficiary was not close with or on good terms with the person who was killed, that their grief is automatically less than that of a different family member who might have been more in touch with or closer with the decedent at the time of the wrongful death event. One common pattern that I’ve seen in wrongful death cases is that if there were two adult children, say a brother and sister, who had a different kind of relationship with their father who was killed, that it isn’t always the child who lived in the same city or area as the person who was killed and was closer to them that suffers the worst.
Sometimes it’s the child or relative who lost the opportunity to reconcile with their parent that is really hit the hardest. If there was a lack of close relationship while the person is still living, that can always be repaired if the two people want to be closer as father and son. That hope is always that there that there will be a reconciliation and an improved relationship. If someone, in this case, the father, is suddenly and unpredictably taken from the world as a result of the fault of another, that opportunity for reconciliation and improved relationship is gone. That can be a terrible tragedy in and of itself and can create lots of feelings of remorse and guilt for the child who perhaps didn’t get a chance to spend as much time with their parent in their last years.
Lots of these kinds of family dynamics and grief and psychology are the stock and trade of an experienced wrongful death attorney in Virginia. As somebody who has thought about these issues a lot and helped families through them, I am, I believe, especially sensitive to what happens in families in the new world after the loss of a loved one and also am particularly capable of bringing this to the attention of the decision-maker whether some insurance claims adjuster, manager or seven members of a civil jury in a circuit court.
If you have lost a loved one due to the fault of another person, call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 757.455.0077 for a free consultation.