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In June of 2011, David Hawkins and Sam Vance negotiated an $875,000 wrongful death settlement that related to a motor vehicle accident on behalf of their client. The negotiations took place over the course of a long day in a mediation conference presided over by a retired judge mutually chosen by the parties to the litigation. In a wrongful death case in Virginia, any agreed-upon settlement between the parties must be approved by a circuit court. This is by statute – Virginia Code Section 8.01-55. This is different from other types of settlements involving motor vehicle accidents, where there has been no wrongful death. These settlements typically need no court approval.
As well, at the hearing on the motion or petition to approve the wrongful death settlement, the circuit court judge will consider not only Virginia Code Section 8.01-55, but also the wrongful death statute that determines the statutory beneficiaries, Virginia Code Section 8.01-53. In Virginia, the statutory beneficiaries to a wrongful death action are the surviving spouse and children (and children of any deceased children), or if none, the parents and siblings of the deceased, and any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and who is also a member of the same household as the decedent, or . . . and continuing on (under the statute) until there are some statutory beneficiaries to take.
The statute is important because it is not unusual for those who live with, and who are dependent on, the deceased individual, to be ineligible under the statute, simply because of their relation to the deceased. An example of this would be where the decedent passes leaving a surviving spouse and both stepchildren and natural children. Under the statute, the stepchildren in this example do not take, even though they may have been treated as natural children by the deceased and may in some cases be closer to the deceased than the natural children.
Finally, the timing of the wrongful death beneficiaries statute is also important. Under the statute, the class and beneficiaries thereof eligible to receive such distribution is fixed (i) at the time the verdict is entered if the jury makes the specification, or (ii) at the time the judgment is rendered if the court specifies the distribution. In other words, the case is not closed as of the date of death of the deceased.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another and have questions regarding your potential wrongful death claim, please contact us and we would be happy to help you through this difficult time in your life.