When someone you love gets hurt in an accident caused by another party’s careless or harmful behavior, it can be difficult to think about filing a legal claim in order to receive compensation. However, for many families, the process of filing a lawsuit can seem too complicated while contending with medical care and lost wages. However, personal injury lawsuits or wrongful death lawsuits often are among the only options for obtaining financial compensation that is necessary to pay for hospital bills and other necessary expenses.
If a spouse, child, or other close family member was injured or killed in an accident, you may be wondering: should I file a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit? These two different types of claims often arise from similar causes, yet they are distinct in numerous other ways. We want to provide you with more information about the differences between personal injury and wrongful death claims.
Defining Personal Injury and Wrongful Death
The Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII) defines a personal injury as “an injury not to property, but to the body, mind, or emotions.” The LII defines a wrongful death as “a death caused by the wrongful act of another, either accidentally or intentionally.”
General Distinctions Between Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Claims
Both personal injury and wrongful death claims often arise from the same cause: another party was negligent or reckless, and that party’s actions (or inactions) caused the injury of another person. For example, if a distracted driver was texting while on the highway in Virginia and caused a serious accident in which multiple people were injured, that accident alone may give rise to both personal injury and wrongful death claims. However, these two types of lawsuits would not run concurrently for the same injury victim. Instead, the initial distinction lies largely in whether the injured party suffered fatal or nonfatal injuries.
When a person sustains nonfatal injuries, that person can be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit. If that person later succumbs to his injuries, then the family members of that person may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Similarly, if a person immediately sustains fatal injuries, the family members of that person may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Claim?
With a personal injury lawsuit, typically only the injured party (or parties) can be eligible to file a lawsuit. In other words, the injured party must be the party to file the lawsuit.
In a wrongful death claim in Virginia, Virginia law (§ 8.01-50), a “personal representative” of the estate must be the party to file. Since the deceased—the subject of the lawsuit—is no longer alive to bring a claim himself or herself, the personal representative takes on the role of filing the claim. To be clear, a wrongful death claim allows a personal representative of the deceased to “step into the shoes,” so to speak, of that person in order to seek compensation for their injuries.
Distinctions in the Statutes of Limitations
The Virginia statute of limitations for a personal injury claim (§ 8.01-243) is two years from the date of the injury. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the death, even if the injury occurred months—or even years—before the deceased succumbed to injuries.
Contact a Fairfax Personal Injury Attorney
If you have questions about filing a personal injury claim or wrongful death lawsuit, a personal injury attorney in Fairfax can help. Contact Whitestone Young, PC today.