Few events in life are more traumatic than the sudden death of a loved one. If you and your family are facing this devastating situation, it is important to understand your legal rights.
Unexpected deaths often occur as a result of accidents on the road, at work, and in other locations. You and your family may be entitled to compensation if your loved one died as a result of somebody else’s negligence. The process of recovering damages related to the loss of a family member is known as a wrongful death claim.
For more than 20 years, Colombo Law has been representing families in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia who have lost relatives as a result of the negligence and wrongdoing of others. Contact a wrongful death lawyer by calling (304) 599-4229 today for a free consultation.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a type of legal action that allows surviving family members to pursue compensation for the loss of a loved one. To recover damages for wrongful death, you must prove that one or more parties were at fault for the fatal injuries your loved one sustained.
Is Wrongful Death the Same Thing as Murder or Manslaughter?
Murder and manslaughter are criminal charges. A wrongful death claim, meanwhile, is a civil matter.
The defendant in a wrongful death claim does not need to be charged with or convicted of a crime for you to have a viable case. In fact, the majority of wrongful death claims center on issues of negligence rather than intentional and unlawful acts.
Defendants can face both civil and criminal liability for actions that result in the death of another. If convicted in criminal court, the defendant can be sentenced to prison. If the defendant is found liable for wrongful death in civil court, he or she is liable for damages payable to the plaintiff.
The outcome of a case in one court does not affect the viability of the case in another court. A defendant can be acquitted of murder or manslaughter charges but still be held liable for wrongful death.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The process of pursuing compensation for wrongful death is very similar to making a personal injury claim. Instead of seeking damages that you have suffered as a result of injury, however, you are trying to recover losses related to the untimely death of a loved one.
Bringing a claim for the wrongful death of a loved one will not replace the priceless individual you have lost. However, it can help you and your family to obtain justice and fair compensation for the challenges you face now and in the future.
In some cases it might not be necessary to file a lawsuit. Wrongful death attorneys at Colombo Law can demand compensation from those responsible and negotiate with the insurance companies to reach a favorable settlement.
But, if the defendant(s) and the insurer(s) make a low-ball settlement offer or refuse to compensate you fairly, our lawyers will not hesitate to file a lawsuit on your behalf. A settlement may still be possible before your case goes to trial. Regardless, we will thoroughly prepare to go to court and fight for the outcome you deserve.
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
To recover compensation in a wrongful death claim, you must prove the following:
- The defendant(s) owed your loved one a duty of care. “Duty of care” is a legal term for the responsibility to act with reasonable caution in a particular situation (such as paying attention to the road and obeying traffic laws while driving).
- The duty of care was violated through negligence. Negligence is the failure to act with the care required by law.
- This negligence directly caused the death of your relative. Those who engage in intentional wrongdoing can also be held liable if their actions led to your loved one’s death.
- Your family has incurred damages as a result of the wrongful death. The losses you seek compensation for must be supported by the evidence.
Liability for wrongful death can arise whether the death is instantaneous or occurs at a later date. Regardless, it is important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. A Morgantown wrongful death attorney at Colombo Law will investigate promptly and gather evidence in support of each of the elements in your case.
Types of Wrongful Death Claims Colombo Law Handles
A wide range of accidents and events can lead to fatal injuries. It is of the utmost importance to work with a wrongful death lawyer who has experience handling cases with circumstances similar to the ones you and your family are facing.
Colombo Law represents individuals and families in all types of wrongful death claims, including fatalities that arise due to:
- Truck Accidents
- Car Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Slip and Fall Accidents
- Dog Bites and Attacks
- Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
- Birth Injuries
- Fires and Explosions
- Work-Related Injuries
- Accidents in the Natural Gas Industry
- Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos-Related Illnesses
Achieving fair compensation for the loss of a loved one is rarely a simple matter. The wrongful death lawyers at Colombo Law know the challenges of navigating these claims, and we are committed to representing you and your family with compassion while aggressively advocating for your best interests at all times.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You
A legal matter is the last thing you and your family should have to deal with when a loved one dies. Without qualified representation, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.
If you suspect that someone else’s negligence caused the death of your loved one, it is in your best interest to hire an attorney as soon as possible. A wrongful death lawyer can assist you in many ways, including:
- Determining the legal remedies that may be available
- Investigating the cause of the accident or injury that resulted in your loved one’s death
- Gathering evidence of fault
- Hiring expert witnesses to assess the evidence and testify as to the negligence or misconduct involved
- Reviewing medical records and autopsy reports to understand the nature and severity of your loved one’s injuries and the cause of death
- Calculating the damages in your wrongful death claim
- Demanding compensation from the insurer(s)
- Negotiating a settlement with the insurance company (or companies)
- If necessary, filing a wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf in the appropriate court
- Preparing your case for trial
- Advocating in court for the compensation you and your family deserve
At Colombo Law, the secret to our success is preparing every case as though it will go to trial. This approach gives us a full understanding of the issues and allows us to advocate effectively for the outcome you and your family deserve.
Our Morgantown wrongful death attorneys and support staff will communicate with you regularly throughout the course of your claim. We respond to calls and emails promptly and are always prepared to answer your questions and provide you with knowledgeable, individualized guidance.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under West Virginia law, wrongful death claims can only be initiated “by and in the name of the personal representative of [the] deceased person.” The personal representative (also known as an executor or executrix) is responsible for managing and distributing the estate of an individual after he or she has passed away.
The will of the deceased should name a personal representative. However, if an individual dies without a will or the will fails to name a personal representative, an administrator will be appointed during the probate process.
Although any surviving family member has the right to consult an attorney about bringing a wrongful death claim, the personal representative is the one who has to do the actual filing. If a settlement is reached or compensation is awarded, the personal representative is also responsible for distributing the wrongful death damages.
Who Is Entitled to Compensation for Wrongful Death?
It is important to distinguish between the individual responsible for initiating the wrongful death claim (the personal representative or administrator of the estate) and those who can be awarded compensation. Although certain losses may be recoverable by the estate (see below), the surviving family members are the primary beneficiaries if a wrongful death claim succeeds.
Family members who are entitled to compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one include:
- The spouse of the deceased
- Children of the deceased (includes biological children, stepchildren, and adopted children)
- Siblings of the deceased
- Surviving parents of the deceased
- “[A]ny persons who were financially dependent upon the decedent at the time of his or her death”
If your wrongful death case goes to trial, the amount of compensation awarded to each of the family members above depends on several factors. A jury may choose to award specific damages to surviving family members, or, in the event that an award of general damages is made, the court will determine the distribution of the proceeds.
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered for Wrongful Death?
The amount of compensation you and your loved ones may be entitled to depends on the specific losses you and your family have sustained when pursuing a wrongful death case. A Morgantown wrongful death lawyer at Colombo Law will fully assess the damages and pursue fair compensation on your behalf.
Recoverable damages in a wrongful death claim may include:
- Loss of your loved one’s income
- Loss of support and services
- Mental anguish
- Loss of society and companionship
- Funeral and burial/cremation expenses
- Medical expenses prior to death
The personal representative can also bring a survival action on behalf of the estate. Unlike a wrongful death claim, which seeks compensation for the losses suffered by the surviving family members, a survival action pursues the damages that the deceased would have been entitled to had he or she survived the accident.
Potential damages in a survival action include loss of income, medical bills and other expenses, and conscious pain and suffering. Compensation in a survival action is payable to the estate.
How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?
The first step of a wrongful death claim is to speak to a qualified attorney. A wrongful death lawyer can review your case and advise you of your options for seeking compensation – including filing a claim. It is of the utmost importance for the personal representative or administrator to be aware of these options, as only he or she can initiate proceedings.
Next, your attorney will investigate. This process – which typically involves collecting physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, reviewing paper and electronic records, consulting experts, and more – helps to establish (a) what caused your loved one’s death and (b) who is responsible.
Once the at-fault parties are identified, your wrongful death attorney can assess the available insurance coverage. Although you can file a lawsuit at this point, your lawyer will likely recommend submitting a demand letter to the insurance company stating your case and the amount of compensation you are seeking.
The insurance company may offer you a settlement. Before accepting, it is crucial to consult your wrongful death lawyer to ensure the offer is fair and covers the losses you and your family have sustained.
If you decide to accept a settlement, this marks the end of your wrongful death claim. However, if liability is disputed or the insurance company won’t compensate you fairly, it may be necessary to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
After the lawsuit is filed, your wrongful death lawyer will handle all aspects of trial preparation. When the court date arrives (which can take a year or more, depending on how crowded the docket is), your attorney will be ready to present your case and fight for a favorable result on your behalf.
What Is the West Virginia Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death?
The statute of limitations is the time limit imposed by law on a legal action. In West Virginia, a wrongful death claim must be brought no later than 2 years from the date that the decedent passes away.
Two years is not a lot of time, especially when you and your family are dealing with the challenges of a sudden death. It is in your best interest to speak to a Morgantown wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible so you don’t miss your chance to pursue fair compensation.
Why Choose Colombo Law for Your Wrongful Death Claim?
There is no substitute for experience. The attorneys at Colombo Law know wrongful death claims because we have handled many of them in our more than 65 years of combined legal practice. We have helped a number of bereaved families in Morgantown and other areas of West Virginia achieve justice for their loved ones and the compensation they need to rebuild their lives after tragedy.
Colombo Law makes each client a No Fee Promise. Not only will we review your case for free, but you pay us nothing until we obtain a favorable result on your behalf.
With the Colombo Advantage, you can expect our attorneys and staff to be professional, compassionate, and scrupulous in protecting your interests. Our team understands the hardships facing families when a beloved relative is killed. Colombo Law has taken on a number of powerful defendants and large insurance companies, recovering millions of dollars on behalf of individuals and families who have suffered unimaginable losses due to the negligence of others.
Nobody expects someone they love to die suddenly. When this awful event occurs, you owe it to yourself to get to the bottom of what happened. A wrongful death attorney at Colombo Law can handle the challenges of your case while you focus on healing from the loss.
Please call Colombo Law at (304) 599-4229 today for a free review of your case. Our wrongful death lawyers serve clients in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.