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Man caught by Police for driving under alcohol influence

My Loved One Was Killed by a Drunk Driver. What Happens Now?

Blaszkow Legal, PLLC Feb. 27, 2023

It’s an unspeakable tragedy when you lose a loved one due to a preventable accident or someone else’s negligence. The impact of such a tragedy can effect the surviving family members for years to come. The sad reality is that this happens far too often, and it’s the family and loved ones of the victim who must pick up the pieces and try to find a path forward. If this has happened to your family, either by a drunk driving accident leading to death, or any other kind of accident, the law permits the filing of a wrongful death claim. This is not an easy step to take, but with the right help, you can receive financial compensation. If you’re in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia, contact us at Blaszkow Legal, PLLC, in order to start working with an experienced personal injury attorney. Our team has the knowledge, practice, and compassion to assist you during these challenging times. 

Wrongful death claims are governed by statutes that set out the specific rules and requirements for pursuing a claim. In this article we will provide an overview of the process.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought by the survivors of a person who has died due to the negligence or intentional acts of another person. The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate the survivors for the loss of their loved one, including the financial and emotional losses.

Why File a Wrongful Death Claim?  

Nobody expects a wrongful death lawsuit to solve your problems or heal your wounds. It won’t bring the deceased person back, but it can hold the responsible party accountable so that this doesn’t happen to other families. Additionally, it can also provide a much-needed financial boost for you to cover funeral expenses, burial expenses, or loss of economic support. And, when you work with our team at Blaszkow Legal, PLLC, you’ll have experienced and successful lawyers on your side.    

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Virginia?  

Each state has its own laws regarding wrongful death claims, and while this typically means lawsuits can only be brought forward by family members, in Virginia it’s slightly different. Our laws state that only a “personal representative” of the deceased can file a claim. This is typically an executor that’s been named in a will or other estate-planning document, but if there is no such document, the court can assign an administrator to this role (often an immediate surviving family member). However, the damages that are received from the claim won’t automatically go to the person who filed; rather, they’ll go to the deceased’s statutory beneficiaries. The statute of limitations for filing is two years from the date of death, and while some exceptions may be made to this, they are rare. Therefore, if you attempt to file after the two years have passed, your claim will likely be dismissed. 

Liability for Drunk Driving  

If you’re questioning, “what happens if a drunk driver killed my loved one and it was their negligence that caused my loved one’s death?” know that you’re not alone and there is help available. However, there are a few options you’ll have regarding whom the claim goes to, and this depends on who’s found liable for wrongful death. You could seek damages directly from the driver, and this is the most common route. However, if the driver was underage, you may also seek restitution from their parents under the “negligent entrustment” rule. In this case, if the parents gave their child permission to drive the family car and knew they had been drinking or had reason to believe they couldn’t be trusted, they can be on the hook for damages. In other cases, you may think it’s important to know where the driver was coming from, whether it was from work or at an establishment that served drinks. In cases like these, victims sometimes have a standing under dram shop and social liability laws.    

Virginia’s Dram Shop and Social Liability Laws  

Virginia is one of only a few states that has no dram shop or social host liability laws on the books. In other states that have such laws, such as the District of Columbia, the victim’s family could seek damages from an establishment that knowingly over-served someone who went on to injure or kill another person while drunk driving. However, this is not an option in Virginia, and in almost all cases, the bar or restaurant where the perpetrator was last served alcohol cannot be found legally liable for damages. This is also generally true of social hosts as well. The “social host” rule would apply to a private individual or business, such as a friend or employer who was serving alcohol at a party. An exception to this is if the social host were serving someone under the age of 21 who then went on to drive drunk and cause an injury or death. 

Compensation for Wrongful Death

The amount of compensation available in a wrongful death case will depend upon the specific circumstances of the case. Compensation may include a variety of damages, including:

  • medical expenses incurred by the deceased person

  • funeral and burial expenses

  • loss of financial support

  • loss of companionship and society

Assertive & Skilled Legal Counsel  

If you’d like to speak with a wrongful death attorney and you're near Alexandria, Virginia, reach out to our team at Blaszkow Legal, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation. There’s nothing we can do to diminish the grief you must be feeling, but we can help hold the guilty parties accountable. Our knowledgeable attorneys can help you navigate the complex legal process of pursuing a wrongful death claim to make sure your rights are protected.