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Who can be held liable for wrongful death?

In West Virginia wrongful death cases, people whose negligence causes the death of another person may be held civilly liable to the family members of the victim. If the person whose negligence caused the injury was working for his or her employer in the course of his or her job at the time of the accident, the employer may also be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The law specifies who may file a claim and the types of damages that are recoverable. Eligible family members include the decedent's spouse and children, stepchildren, siblings, parents and any others who were financially dependent on the loved one. The suit may also be brought by a personal representative of the decedent who is appointed by the court.

While the law does not limit juries to awarding damages to only certain categories, it does direct juries to make findings regarding damages for sorrow, mental anguish and loss of companionship; loss of income expected from the decedent and loss of the value of the decedent's services; medical expenses for treatment received for the injury prior to the death; and reasonable funeral expenses incurred. Juries may additionally award other types of damages.

Many people are killed each year as a result of driver negligence. If the negligent person was working at the time of the injury, families should consider naming the employer as a defendant in the lawsuit as well. An example would be when people die in fatal truck accidents caused by a truck driver. Both the truck driver and his or her company may be held liable in a wrongful death action. A personal injury attorney can help a family ensure that all potential defendants, claims and damages are considered, detailed and included in the initial civil complaint they file with the court. No information in this article should be construed as specific legal advice.

Source: West Virginia Legislature, "§55-7-6. By whom action for wrongful death to be brought; amount and distribution of damages; period of limitation.", November 12, 2014

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