The highway death rate increased in 2005 for the first time in about 20 years, according to recently released federal statistics. Although more people are using safety belts and there have been various national campaigns against drunk driving, 43,200 people died in motor vehicle wrecks in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many of these deaths are caused by wrongful or careless acts of other motorists or truck drivers.
I will never forget when a client years ago indicated that he didn’t think that I did wrongful death cases, because he thought all I did was injury law. I hope that our clients and friends all realize that wrongful death motor vehicle law is an area that our firm has handled many, many times over the years. The emotions of the surviving family members are always strong, as they should be. We take our job in representing these families as one of our most solemn duties. Wrongful death cases share much in common with other kinds of car crash cases in that you have to prove the fault of the other driver and in some states like Virginia prove that the decedent was free from fault. In other ways, wrongful death cases are different, especially on the damages side. Most states have a specific statute that tells what kind of damages are allowed in a wrongful death. In Virginia, the loss of comfort, solice and companionship of the decedent to their family is a key component beyond the economic losses. Good plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers in wrongful death cases usually hire economists to estimate how much the person’s family lost in the future as a result of no longer being able to work, if they are a working person. Additionally, the economist can put value on services such as cutting the lawn, doing household cleaning and other regular activities that you might not think about as having an economic value to them. Perhaps, the most important thing in a wrongful death case is to understand the relationships between the decedent and their various family members such as spouses and children. Making the jury understand the loss, as more than a statistic, is central to the lawyer’s task in a wrongful death case. Often by putting together this information in advance of trial, we are able to force the insurance company to pay full and fair value in the tragic situtation of a highway death case.