Wrongful Death

Proving Negligence


Wrongful death is a term used when someone causes the death of another person, most often due to his or her actions (such as in an accident) or by their failure to act (neglect). Wrongful Death is a civil action in court, not a criminal one. Since the person killed (the decedent) cannot file suit or collect damages, it is the family, or representatives of the estate that do so.

The intent in filing the civil suit is to compensate the family members who have suffered monetarily and emotionally from the death. Damages can be assessed for lost wages, benefits, loss of companionship, and emotional pain and suffering caused by the trauma. A defendant can only be held responsible for a wrongful death if it can be proved that the defendant’s conduct was the cause of the death. It must be proved that the death would not have occurred without the defendant’s act.

Time between the defendant’s action and the death of the decedent, is not a factor, as long as it can be proved that the defendant’s action was the cause of death. If it can be shown that the decedent was partially responsible for his death, he may be found to have comparative or contributory negligence. Depending upon the state in which the incident occurred, damages may be awarded based on the percentage of negligence attributed to the decedent. If the decedent failed to seek appropriate medical care and that failure led to his death, there may be no grounds for a wrongful death claim or a reduction to an award.

It must be shown by evidence that the death was caused by another’s wrongful act, that the act was such that the decedent would have been due damages from the act, and that monetary damages did arise from the act. If these three criteria are met, a wrongful death claim can be filed.

Wrongful Death Compensation

Damages in a wrongful death case are assessed to compensate family members for their loss. There are many ways in which damages can be calculated. Damages may be awarded in a number of areas, so it is important to examine each one carefully:

  • Medical and Death Expenses: These are the most obvious loss in a case of wrongful death, and the actual expense is usually easy to determine.
  • Future Earnings/Loss of Companionship: These damages are more difficult to calculate, and include anticipating the lifespan and earnings of the decedent, as well as the relationship to remaining family members. Loss of companionship is very difficult to calculate since it does not lend itself to empirical measurements. It is a valuation of the emotional pain and suffering experienced by the survivors.
  • Punitive Damages: This is an amount awarded to punish the person who caused the death, rather than to compensate for a specific loss. This can be awarded when the action of the defendant was intentional or grossly negligent.

When you lose a family member unexpectedly, the financial burdens of missing work, funeral expenses, and lost income should not add to your emotional distress. Under West Virginia law, if your loved one has been killed to the negligent or reckless behavior of a third party, you can collect damages.

Whether this negligence occurred in an auto accident or because of medical malpractice, you should seek a West Virginia wrongful death settlement. The attorneys at Hatcher Law Offices can file suit for you as soon as possible. Being awarded compensation can help alleviate financial worries so you can focus on your emotional healing.

While it may be difficult to pursue a wrongful death suit in West Virginia, our attorneys are sensitive to the dealing process and know it can be an important first step. Contact us today for more information and a consultation on the wrongful death laws, and how these laws can protect you and your family during this difficult time.