West Virginia Wrongful Death Laws

Normally, in order to recover damages from personal injuries, the individual actually harmed is the only one with standing to file a lawsuit. But what if the injuries result in death? Are the ones responsible off the hook? Not under West Virginia wrongful death laws, which allow for actions to recover losses after a victim's death.

Wrongful death claims can arise after any type of accidental death, from car crashes to workplace accidents. In West Virginia, medical malpractice is also a common basis for wrongful death claims. These cases usually involve some form of negligence by a medical provider, such as over prescribing medications or failing to perform standard tests.

Regardless of the type of wrongful death case, it's important to understand how these West Virginia laws work and how they might benefit loved ones after a tragic loss.

How is a West Virginia Wrongful Death Case Filed?

Although some states allow loved ones to file wrongful death actions after an accidental death, West Virginia only allows the deceased person's estate to file such actions. Typically, this would be the executor or administrator named by a court to manage the estate. When filing suit, the estate would have to allege and prove the following elements:

  • The death of an individual (decedent);
  • Which was caused by wrongful act (such as negligence or medical malpractice); and
  • The decedent would have been entitled to sue for damages had he or she lived.

Limits on Recoveries

Any recovery for injury damages in a West Virginia wrongful death case can be limited by two main factors: (1) the modified comparative fault standard; and (2) the cap on noneconomic damages.

West Virginia's comparative fault standard essentially reduces any damage award by the percentage of the decedent's own negligence in his or her death. So, for example, a construction worker that negligently fails to wear required safety equipment could be determined to have a small percentage of responsibility in his own death even if it was caused by a negligent crane operator.

West Virginia also places a cap on noneconomic damages in actions for professional malpractice as estates can only recover up to $500,000 for each incident.

West Virginia Wrongful Death Laws: An Overview

The chart below contains more specific information on West Virginia wrongful death laws.

Statutes

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-5 (elements for wrongful death action)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-6 (authorizing wrongful death actions; describing damages allowed; providing the applicable statute of limitations)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-7 (authorizing the personal representative of an estate to settle wrongful death claims before or after any action is brought)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7B-8 (limiting recovery for non-economic damages)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-8 (allowing the joinder of personal injury claims with wrongful death claims)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-8a (requiring wrongful death suits to be brought by the personal representative of the deceased)

West Virginia Code Section 55-7-13a (requiring the comparative fault standard for wrongful death cases)

Who May Bring an Action?

Wrongful death actions must be brought by the personal representative of the estate.

What Damages are Recoverable?

Among the damages that can be recovered by a claimant in a wrongful death case are damages for:

  • Sorrow, mental anguish and loss of companionship;
  • Reasonably expected loss of income, services, care and assistance provided by the decedent;
  • Expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization;
  • Reasonable funeral expenses; and
  • Punitive damages (if the death was the result of reckless, malicious or intentional conduct).
Statute of Limitations

A wrongful death action must be brought within two years after the death.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources for West Virginia Wrongful Death Laws

Free Initial Review of Your West Virginia Wrongful Death Case

With all of the grief and confusion that arises after a loved one is accidentally killed, it's hard to know just what to do next. An experienced personal injury attorney can help to explain West Virginia wrongful death laws and pursue compensation for your losses. You can arrange a free preliminary evaluation of your case with an attorney near you today.

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