Can I Sue for Wrongful Death?

  • Posted on: Oct 12 2018
  • By:

Susan Pierce – An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

A wrongful death lawsuit is filed on behalf of a deceased individual by his or her family. A wrongful death lawsuit, in essence, allows certain surviving beneficiaries to step into the shoes of a deceased family member in order to obtain compensation for his or her death. Below is an overview of wrongful death in Virginia.


Death is considered wrongful when it results from the intentional harm or negligence of another person, and negligence must be proven in order to succeed in a wrongful death case. Negligence is established by proving the following elements:

      • The defendant owed a duty to the decedent,
      • The defendant breached his or her duty,
      • The breach of duty caused the decedent’s death, and
      • The decedent’s family members suffered damages as a result of the death.

Personal representative and beneficiaries

The individual who files a wrongful death lawsuit is known as the decedent’s personal representative. The personal representative in a wrongful death case acts on behalf of the deceased victim. A personal representative in a wrongful death case may also be a beneficiary (i.e., a family member of the victim who is entitled to monetary damages). In Virginia, beneficiaries include, in order of priority:

      • The victim’s surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren
      • The victims surviving parents and siblings
      • Any surviving dependent relative of the victim who shared his or her household
      • Any surviving family member of the victim who is entitled to inherit his or her estate under Virginia’s intestacy law


Standing refers to an individual’s legal right to file a lawsuit. A plaintiff in a wrongful death case in Virginia must have standing in order to file a lawsuit. When standing is absent, the court can dismiss the action. And even if a decedent resided in another state and has an estate pending in that state, only a Virginia court is permitted to appoint a personal representative in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Virginia.

Survival claim

An issue related to wrongful death and standing is that of survival claims. Whether a personal representative has standing to pursue a survival claim on behalf of a decedent is an issue that should be considered by family members during the preparation of a wrongful death lawsuit. While the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate beneficiaries, a survival claim compensates a decedent’s estate for his or her pain and suffering, inconvenience, and lost wages.

Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys

At Walker Jones, PC, Susan Pierce is dedicated to helping those who have been injured receive compensation for their injuries. Susan Pierce has been a Virginia personal injury lawyer for over 30 years. She works tirelessly for her clients, guiding them through the legal system while ensuring that they receive the most effective representation possible. Personal injury clients pay no attorney fees unless their claims are successful. If you or a loved one has been injured, please allow us help you. Call our office today for a free consultation.

Posted in: Personal Injury