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Putting a Price on Human Life – What is a Wrongful Death Suit Worth in Virginia?

We all know that no amount of money can be placed on a human life. Death is final and irreversible, and nothing can bring back a loved one who lost their life because of the negligence or reckless actions of another person or party. No amount of money can ease the grief and heartbreak losing someone who was close to you.

All that being said, in the realm of personal injury and wrongful death claims, the best that can be done to right the wrong of the untimely death of a loved one is to provide financial compensation. But how much is a person’s life worth according to the law? The answer to that question is complex at best, and it depends on numerous factors. 

One thing that is nearly certain is that the insurance company for the party responsible for a wrongful death will do everything they can to pay out as little as possible. They will look for ways to diminish the value of the claim or even deny it all together. Or if there is overwhelming evidence that their client is clearly at fault, they may come to you early on with a lowball settlement offer, hoping you will want to take the quick money and put this tragic incident behind you.

If you have lost a loved one because of someone else’s wrongdoing, it is important for you to fully understand your rights. Before dealing with the insurer for the responsible party, it is best to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to fully assess your case and review your legal options. This way, you can make the most informed decision on how you wish to proceed.

What is a Wrongful Death Case Worth in Virginia?

While there is no set dollar amount that applies to all wrongful death cases and no attorney can guarantee that they will recover a certain amount, there are damages that are available in most cases to family members and the decedent’s estate that provide compensation for various types of losses:

  • Economic Damages: These are actual monetary losses that were incurred because of your loved one’s death. Examples include medical expenses related to the decedent’s final illness or injury, lost wages (including wages the decedent might reasonably have been expected to earn had they had lived), and funeral and burial costs.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These are intangible losses that are more difficult to assign a dollar figure to. Examples include sorrow and emotional distress, and loss of care, companionship, guidance, and comfort.
  • Punitive Damages: In rarer cases in which a wrongful death was the result of willful and wanton negligence on the part of the person or party responsible, punitive damages may be awarded to “punish” the wrongdoer and help deter them (and others) from similarly egregious actions in the future.

In Virginia, punitive damages are capped at $350,000. Virginia also caps the total for the all damages in a medical malpractice case at $2 million. Even if actual losses far exceed this amount, the award will be reduced by the court to the $2 million cap.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim in Virginia?

State law allows only “statutory beneficiaries” to file wrongful death claims, which would include immediate family members and dependents. Those are allowed to bring a claim include:

  • Surviving spouses;
  • Surviving children and grandchildren;
  • Surviving parents and siblings;
  • Dependent relatives who shared the same household as the decedent;
  • Surviving family members who are heirs to the decedent’s estate under Virginia’s intestacy laws.

The right of family members and dependents to file a wrongful death lawsuit follows a specific order. The first group with the right to file are surviving spouses, children and grandchildren. If there are no survivors in the first group, surviving parents, siblings, or dependents may file. If there are no survivors in the second group, then the right goes to the next heir under the state’s intestacy laws.

It is important to note that Virginia has a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits. If a surviving loved one does not bring a wrongful death claim within two years of the decedent’s death, the case will most likely be thrown out of court.

Speak with a Knowledgeable and Compassionate Virginia Wrongful Death Lawyer

Putting a price on human life is a fool’s errand. And while nothing can replace the loss of someone who was close to you, financial compensation can help cushion the blow and allow you to more easily adjust to life without your lost loved one. At Olmstead & Olmstead, we are here to help provide strong legal guidance and moral support during this difficult time. We work closely with our clients, and we fight hard to obtain the full and fair compensation our clients need and deserve. To schedule your free consultation with one of our skilled personal injury attorneys, call us today at 703-361-1555. You may also message us through our online contact form or visit our Manassas, VA office in person at your convenience.

Can Child Support be Modified because of a Disability?

When child support is awarded at the conclusion of a divorce or parentage case, support payments are firmly established. Child support is set based on the parent’s ability to pay and the best interests of the child(ren), with the goal of providing the same level of support (or as close to it as possible) as the child(ren) received when the parents were together. A parent cannot stop making full payments on their own; they must go back to court to seek a modification.

When the parent who is responsible for child support becomes disabled and is no longer able to work, there is a strong likelihood that they will not have the financial means to continue paying the same level of support as when they were working. Many individuals in this situation often ask, “can child support be modified because of a disability?”

The short answer to that question is “probably”, but as always, it depends on your specific circumstances. Modifications can usually be granted when there is a significant decrease in income; but you cannot assume that this will be the case, and you still need to obtain approval from the court before your child support payments can be formally modified.

Before going straight to the court, however, there are some questions you should answer and potentially some other options to look at:

What Type of Disability Payments will you be Receiving?

Since your change in income is the primary determining factor the court will look at in deciding whether or not to modify child support, one of the first questions that will be asked is how much will you be getting in disability, and follow up to that – how will your disability income compare with your current level of income?

The amount you receive in disability will be determined largely by where you are getting your benefits from. There are several potential sources of disability income:

  • A Private Disability Insurance Plan: If you have disability insurance that you purchased privately, this will usually pay you somewhere between 60% and 80% of your current take home pay (after taxes). If you have good coverage that is paying more toward 80% or higher, then the court will probably not modify your child support obligations all that much.
  • Disability Insurance through your Employer: If you have disability coverage at work, the benefits are usually not quite as good as the average private plan. Generally, you can expect to get about 50% of your take home pay on the low side, and upwards of 80% on the high side.
  • Workers Compensation Insurance: If you suffered a qualifying work-related injury or illness, you may be eligible for workers’ comp benefits. If approved, you should receive two-thirds of your pre-tax income.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Social Security Disability pays benefits based on a complex formula, and it is usually significantly lower than your current income, especially if you are presently earning several thousand dollars a month or more. If you have a high income now and all you will receive for your disability is SSDI, you may have a strong argument for a child support payment modification.
  • Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI): SSI is a means-tested disability program for low-income claimants. Payments are very low compared to other programs, generally only enough to cover basic living needs. If SSI is going to be your only source of income, you will probably not be able to afford much (if anything) for child support.

Can you Work Something Out with the Other Parent?

If the other parent of your child is reasonable, you might be able to negotiate an arrangement with them rather than having to argue your case in court. Explain to them that you are no longer able to work, and what the difference in income will be now that you are disabled. You may even want to offer to spend extra time caring for your child or children in exchange for a lower support payment. If you are able to agree to something, make sure to have it formalized for your protection. Speak with an experienced family law attorney to have the agreement written up and brought to the court for approval.

Can your Children Receive Dependent Benefits?

Another option you can look into is whether or not your children can qualify for dependent benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). This may be possible if you are receiving SSDI benefits and your children are under 18, disabled, or 19 years old and full-time college students. If you are able to get your children approved for dependent benefits, the court may subtract the amount your kids are receiving from your child support obligation.

Have Further Questions about Child Support and Disabilities? Contact a Skilled Virginia Family Law Attorney

Child support can be a contentious and emotionally charged issue, and the courts have strong enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that parents make their payments. If you have had a significant change in circumstance since your divorce or parentage case was finalized and you want to seek a child support modification, you need a seasoned family law attorney in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interests.  Call Olmstead & Olmstead today at 703-361-1555 to schedule a personalized consultation. You may also message us through our web contact form or visit our office in Manassas, VA at your convenience.

Making Healthcare Decisions for Children of Divorce

When there is a divorce involving children, the parents often have vehement disagreements about various parenting issues. One of the most common areas in which parents may not see eye to eye is with the health care decisions that must be made. Before the divorce is finalized, they might be able to agree on whose health insurance policy the children will be under, but when a specific issue arises, they often have different ideas about how it should be addressed.

Sole vs. Joint Custody in Virginia

The first consideration when there is a disagreement about a health care decision on behalf of the child is which parent has custody. There are two different types of child custody; physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody addresses which parent the child lives with primarily, and how often the non-custodial parent is able to visit the child. Legal custody deals with the ability of parents to make major decisions that affect the child. Healthcare decisions would fall into the area of legal custody, because it would be in the “major decision” category.

When One of the Parents Has Sole Legal Custody

If one of the parents has sole legal custody, then they are able to make decisions about routine medical care (e.g., physicals, dental checkups, eye tests, etc.) without consulting the other parent. In addition, either parent can make a decision about emergency medical care while the child is with them. However, if this is the parent who does not have sole legal custody, he or she must inform the other parent about the medical treatment the child received as soon as it is reasonably possible.

When Parents have Joint Legal Custody

It is becoming increasingly common in Virginia and throughout the country for parents to share legal custody of their children. The default position of the family courts is that it is generally in the best interests of the children for both parents to be involved in their lives. So, even in situations where one parent has primary physical custody of the child, they often have joint legal custody; giving them equal decision-making authority over areas such as education, religious upbringing, extra-curricular activities, and health care. 

In some cases, one parent may be given final decision-making authority over certain areas, with other areas going to the other parent. For example, if religious upbringing and education are more important to the mother and the child is on the father’s health insurance policy, the mother may decide which religion the children will be brought up and which school they will go to, while the father may to have decision-making authority for medical treatment.

In many joint custody arrangements, however, the areas of decision-making are not as well-defined, and it is expected that the parents will consult each other and work cooperatively and in keeping with the child’s best interest. And while they might start out with this intention, specific situations may come up in which a major disagreement may arise.

When the Parents Can’t Agree on Medical Treatment

Disagreements over healthcare decisions can lead to a standoff between two parents with the equal decision-making authority, putting professionals who are just trying to do their jobs in the middle of a parenting dispute. For example, the child injures his arm playing football. The mother wants the child to have surgery, but the father wants to pursue other treatments. Both have consulted equally-competent medical professionals who support their point of view.

How does this situation get resolved? Most likely, in one of two ways; the parents either work together to reach a solution both of them can live with, or one of the parents (probably the mother in this case) petitions the court to obtain full legal custody so she can go forward with the surgery. When the court gets involved, the results are unpredictable, and they depend largely on the viewpoint of the judge presiding over the case and the strength of the arguments presented by both sides.

Involved in a Child Custody Dispute in Virginia? Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Parents with joint legal custody should be committed to working together to decide important parenting matters (based on their children’s best interests). And before going back to court, they should exhaust all other avenues and try to work out any disputes on their own. That said, there are times when there is little choice but to petition the court for a modification of the current custody arrangement. When that situation arises, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interests, and for the best interests of your child.  To schedule an initial consultation with the seasoned family law attorneys at Olmstead & Olmstead, call us today at 703-361-1555. You may also message us through our web contact form or visit our Manassas, VA office in person at your convenience.

What are My Rights as an Unwed Parent in Virginia?

When a child is born to an unwed mother, the father has no legal rights initially. Without being married to the child’s mother, there is no automatic presumption under the law as to who the father is. For unmarried fathers to establish parentage, the father must voluntarily declare his paternity in writing, and if it is disputed, prove he is the father through a DNA test.

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity

If there is no dispute between an unmarried couple that they are both parents of a child that is being born, the easiest way for the unmarried father to establish parentage is to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth. There is no cost to execute an AOP form at the hospital, and it does not impact any government benefits that either parent may be receiving. By executing and an AOP form at the time the child is born, the father’s name can be added to the birth certificate right away.

If you did not execute an AOP form at the hospital or birthing center, the form can be filed later with the Virginia Office of Vital Records for a small fee. Once the AOP form is properly filed, you become the legal father of the child, and your name is added to the child’s birth certificate.

Involuntary Establishment of Paternity

If there is any dispute about who the father of the child is, establishing paternity may require a court action. A Petition to Establish Paternity can be filed with the appropriate court by the mother, father, child, or the state of Virginia (if the child is receiving public assistance). For example, if the petitioner claims to be the father and the mother denies this, the petitioner can request that the court orders DNA testing.

DNA samples are taken from the mother, alleged father, and child and taken to a laboratory for analysis. This can establish with nearly 100% certainty whether or not the man being tested is the father of the child. If paternity is successfully established, the father may be required to pay child support, but he may also petition the court for child custody and visitation rights.

Child Custody and Visitation for Unwed Parents in Virginia

In many states, when there are unmarried parents, the default position of the court is to give custody to the mother unless the father takes action to gain custody. In Virginia, once paternity is established, the courts do not favor one parent over the other. Instead, they look at the best interest of the child.

That said, the court does give a lot of weight to the current situation, and who the primary caretaker of the child is now in determining who should have custody. So, assuming the mother is currently the caretaker of the child and has been for a while, the father would have to prove that she is not a good parent in order to take custody away from her.

If you have established paternity early on in the child’s life (e.g., within the first few years) it may be possible to obtain shared custody or at the very least, liberal visitation rights. Shared custody refers to physical custody of the child, and this is a co-parenting arrangement where both parents have the child for at least 91 days of the year.

There is also the matter of legal custody.  This refers to which parent has the right to make important decisions on behalf of the child; such as in the areas of healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Parents may have joint legal custody, in which they must confer with each other on these important decisions, even if one parent has sole physical custody.

Speak with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Unwed parents, especially fathers, face some challenges when they want to be involved in the lives of their children. Establishing paternity can be a complicated process, especially if it is disputed. And once paternity is established, you will often need to go to court to petition for custody or visitation rights.

At Olmstead & Olmstead, we understand the frustrations unmarried parents often face when they are trying to do what’s best for their children. We work closely with our clients, putting our experience to work to help them develop the most practical, effective, and cost-efficient legal solutions.   Call us today at 703-361-1555 to schedule a consultation. You may also message us through our web contact form or visit our office in Manassas, VA at your convenience.

How are Damages Calculated in Accident Cases?

When an individual suffers moderate to severe injuries from an accident, it can be a life-altering experience. High medical bills combined with time missed from work can create a financial hardship for victims and their families, and the physical and emotional pain an injury causes can put additional strain on the household. When an injury results from the negligence or reckless actions of another party, victims deserve to be compensated. The legal term for this is called “damages”.

Compensatory damages in personal injury cases can be divided into two general categories; economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

These are losses incurred by the injured party that are quantifiable. Such as:

  • Property Damage: In most accident cases, there is some property damage that accompanies the injuries. The most common example is with an auto accident case in which the vehicle the injured party was driving is damaged.
  • Medical Costs: Various types of medical expenses may be incurred depending on the type and extent of the injuries. For more severe injuries, there may be hospitalization costs, cost for surgeries and/or various other medical treatments, rehabilitation costs, and costs for ongoing medical care (when there is a debilitating injury).
  • Lost Wages: When someone suffers an injury, they may have to miss work for medical appointments, and depending on the type of work they do, they may be out of work for a while during their recovery period.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity: When someone suffers a debilitating injury, they may not be able to return to their previous job. And in the most serious cases, they may not be able to participate in any type of gainful activity at all.
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses: In the case of an accident that results in a fatality, the victim’s family should be compensated for funeral and burial costs.

Non-Economic Damages

These are intangible losses that are more difficult to quantify because they have to do with the impact the injury has on the victim’s life, and the life of their loved ones. Non-economic damages may include:

  • Physical Pain and Suffering: A serious injury can cause extreme physical pain, and oftentimes, the victim must endure this pain for an extended period of time. If the victim suffers a long-term debilitating injury, the pain and suffering may be permanent.
  • Psychological Distress: Having to adjust to life after a severe injury can be very hard on someone emotionally. Uncertainty about the future, wondering how long the injury will last, how long they will be in pain, when they can return to work (if ever), and similar worries can cause an enormous amount of stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights.
  • Loss of Enjoyment: Some injuries deprive the victim of their ability to participate in physical activities they once enjoyed; such as running, hiking, biking, swimming, and other hobbies or recreational pursuits.
  • Loss of Consortium: This relates to the losses suffered by someone close to the victim, such as loss of the ability to maintain an intimate relationship with your spouse.  Loss of consortium damages are sometimes awarded directly to the loved one who is affected.

Punitive Damages

In rare cases when the actions of the party responsible for the accident were especially egregious, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the wrongdoer and help deter them (and others) from engaging in similar behaviors. To be awarded punitive damages, it must be shown that the responsible party acted with willful and wanton conduct or actual malice toward the victim.  Punitive damages in Virginia are capped at $350,000.

Pursuing Damages in Virginia Accident Cases

Recovering compensation for injuries suffered after an accident in Virginia can be very difficult because of the state’s “contributory negligence” legal standard. Under contributory negligence, an injured party can be barred from recovering damages if they are found to have “contributed” in any way to the underlying accident.

This is a very high bar to clear, and even being found 1% at-fault can be a barrier to obtaining the just compensation you deserve. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to work with a skilled personal injury attorney who understands Virginia law and has a proven ability to successfully pursue damages on behalf of injury victims in these types of cases.

Injured in an Accident in Virginia? Call the Seasoned Personal Injury Lawyers at Olmstead & Olmstead

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, it is important to act immediately to protect your legal right to recover compensation. Call Olmstead & Olmstead today at 703-361-1555 for a free consultation. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.

Negotiating a Full and Fair Settlement

When an individual suffers an injury from an accident or another event and someone else was at fault, they deserve to be compensated. Unfortunately, obtaining full and fair compensation is much easier said than done. In most cases, the party that was responsible for your injuries is not going to willingly write you a check for full damages. In fact, you will most likely not even be dealing directly with the other party. Instead, you will be dealing with their insurance company.

Shortly after an accident, those involved are typically contacted by the adjuster for the other party’s insurer, or in some cases, you might be dealing with your own insurer (such as when the other party was uninsured). You might be offered a settlement by the adjuster early on in the process, but it will probably be for much lower than what your case is worth. To secure just compensation for your injuries, it will most often require a negotiation.

Negotiating a full and fair settlement with an insurance adjuster can be a challenging process.  You can choose to deal with the adjuster on your own, or you can retain the services of a personal injury lawyer to negotiate a settlement for you. If you decide to deal with the insurance company on your own, the process could take as little as a few days or up to several months or more, depending on several factors.

For example, if it is a fairly straightforward car accident case where another driver was clearly negligent in colliding with your vehicle and your injuries are relatively minor, you might decide to take the insurer’s settlement offer and move on with your life. If, on the other hand, your injuries are more extensive, there is some question about liability, and there are other complicating factors, you can expect the negotiations to go on for a while.

If you do have moderate to severe injuries, you definitely do not want to accept an insurance company’s initial offer. The main reason being that it is nearly impossible to know just a few days after an accident how extensive your injuries are. You will need to wait until you have all of that information before you can determine how much compensation you should be entitled to. 

After you have declined the insurer’s first offer and received a medical report regarding your injuries, you can prepare a demand letter with a counter offer that more accurately reflects what your claim is worth. When determining the full extent of the losses you have suffered, be sure to factor in both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are those that are quantifiable, such as property damage, medical costs (both present and future), time missed from work, and loss of earning capacity. Non-economic damages are intangibles that are more difficult to assign a dollar figure to. Examples include pain and suffering, emotional distress, diminished quality of life, and loss of consortium.

After you submit your demand letter with a counter offer, the insurer will either accept the offer or send a counter of their own. In most cases, there will be some back and forth activity before a final settlement is agreed upon, if you are able to get them to agree to a fair settlement at all.

During the process, the insurance company may use various tactics to diminish the value of your claim or deny your claim altogether. For example, if an accident involving injuries occurs in Virginia, an injured party can be barred from recovering compensation if they are found to be even 1% at-fault for the accident. There is no doubt that an insurer will try to use the state’s defendant-friendly legal standard to their advantage to avoid responsibility for the negligent actions of their client.

How an Attorney can Help Negotiate a Full and Fair Settlement

As mentioned earlier, negotiating with the insurance adjuster can be a difficult process, especially in a state that is so favorable to defendants in personal injury cases. This is why it is recommended that those who are injured in an accident strongly consider retaining skilled legal counsel.

A seasoned personal injury lawyer can handle the entire negotiation process for you. They will deal directly with the insurance adjuster, leveraging their extensive experience to help you obtain full and fair compensation.

Some of the specific ways a lawyer can help you during negotiations include:

  • Advising you on whether or not the insurance company is presenting a fair offer;
  • Properly valuing your claim based on a thorough investigation of the facts and evidence of the case;
  • Using their negotiation skills to strongly argue for the amount you deserve;
  • Helping you fight an insurance claim denial;
  • Calling on expert witnesses when necessary to help substantiate your claim;
  • Providing the insurance adjuster with a credible threat of a lawsuit if they do not negotiate in good faith.

If you or someone close to you has been injured in an accident in Virginia, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Olmstead & Olmstead for a free, no-obligation consultation. Call our office today at 571-620-5923 or send us a message through our online contact form.