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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.

Three Commonly Missed Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

America’s nursing homes are in crisis. According to an ABC News report from the early 2000s, elder abuse occurs at one out of every three nursing homes in the United States. Since that report first came out, things have gotten far worse. Aging demographics and longer life expectancies have greatly increased the need for long-term care among America’s seniors, and at the same time, there has been consolidation in the nursing home industry, and those facilities that remain have experienced major staffing shortages.

Today, it is believed that as many as five million seniors are abused each year, and nearly one out of every four nursing facility residents has experienced physical abuse at least once while living in a nursing home. Sadly, these are most likely conservative estimates.

The vast majority of elder abuse cases never get reported at all, and it is easy to understand why. Seniors living in nursing homes depend on their caregivers for everything. Most of them fear that if they report something, they may not be believed – in which case, nothing would likely be done about it. This would mean remaining under the care of the same abuser, and the fear that there would be retribution for trying to report the wrongdoer’s behavior.

Most Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse

There are many ways seniors are abused in nursing homes, and this happens in varying degrees of severity. Nursing home abuse can be divided into five general categories:

Neglect

One of the most common ways elderly individuals are abused at nursing facilities is through general negligence. Whether intentional or unintentional, many nursing homes fail to provide for the basic needs of their residents. Much of this is the result of severe staffing shortages and lack of proper oversight. Oftentimes, nursing home residents are left unattended for long periods of time, and workers fail to ensure that they receive enough food and water, fail to regularly bathe residents, fail to keep their rooms cleaned, and fail to attend to other specific needs they have.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is causing intentional bodily injury or trauma to a nursing home resident through acts such as slapping, hitting, punching, striking, kicking, pushing, shoving, grabbing, and unreasonable restraint. Physical abuse is usually perpetrated by nursing facility staff, although sometimes, the perpetrator may be another resident or in rare instances, a family member.  Nursing home residents who are physically abused can end up with severe and life-threatening injuries that often require immediate medical attention.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the use of words or carrying out of actions that are meant to cause fear, distress, or psychological trauma to a nursing facility resident. Examples include name calling, insults, threats, isolating residents from other residents or their family, and similar acts.  Emotional abuse can cause long-term psychological damage to a resident.

Sexual Abuse

As hard as it is to imagine, sexual abuse happens more often in America’ nursing homes than most people want to believe. This may include acts such as unwanted feeling, touching, groping, all the up to full sexual assault. As with other forms of abuse, the perpetrators are most often staff members, though they could also be other residents. Those with cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are the most likely targets for this type of abuse, because perpetrators believe that individuals with these conditions are the least likely to report the abuse.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse includes any attempt to manipulate or exploit a resident in order to gain control over their finances. This usually happens when a staff member befriends a resident and tries to gain their trust in order to obtain access to their finances. Financial abuse may also be perpetrated by another resident or family member.

Commonly Missed Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Because residents are not likely to report nursing home abuse, it is important for those closest to them to look for signs that this might be occurring. Here are three signs of nursing home abuse that are often overlooked:

  • Slick-Talking Caregivers: If your loved one has scars, bruises, sprains, and more serious physical issues and there is no explanation for these, this is a serious red flag. In addition to that, if the caregiver or staff member is not giving you a straight answer or deflecting your question, this is definitely a cause for concern. Many abusers are very good at covering up what they are doing by sounding friendly and giving slick explanations. If the explanations the staff members are giving you do not add up, then this situation may warrant further investigation.
  • Confusion or Disorientation: If your loved one is confused and disoriented when you come to visit, this could be a sign of physical exhaustion due to the abuse they are receiving. This could also be the sign of other health issues, however. If you notice these symptoms, it is important to look at other factors as well to see if this is a sign of abuse.
  • Ambivalence or Withdrawal: If a loved one is being abused, you may start to see emotional changes such as becoming isolated or withdrawn from other facility residents. While this could be a sign of abuse, but it could also be a sign that they are just not happy with their living conditions. Again, you need to look at what else is happening to help determine if abuse may be occurring.

Protecting Loved Ones from Nursing Home Abuse

Protection of Residents of Nursing Home Facilities under Virginia Law

Under Virginia law, various regulations exist to protect the residents of nursing homes. Nursing homes are defined as any facility that is licensed with the main function of providing nursing and other health care services to residents, including facilities that are called “convalescent homes,” skilled nursing facilities, skilled care facilities, extended care facilities, intermediate care facilities, and nursing or nursing care facilities.

There are clear definitions of neglect and abuse under the law. Neglect is the “failure to provide timely and consistent services, treatment, or care to a resident” that is required to maintain the “health, safety, or comfort” of the resident. The definition of abuse includes causing an injury or unreasonably confining, punishing, or intimidating a resident in a manner that causes pain, harm, or mental turmoil. In this definition of abuse, “verbal, sexual, physical, or mental” forms of abuse are included.

Further, the state requires that the rights of residents are protected while they stay in these facilities. Under the law, the patient must be treated with “consideration, respect, and full recognition of their dignity and individuality.”

Violation of Rights

A complaint can be filed with the Virginia Department of Health if a resident is the victim of neglect or abuse or if you believe that someone you love may be a victim of nursing home abuse. The Office of Licensure and Certification of the Virginia Department of Health (OLC) will investigate this complaint. Such complaints can be made in writing or verbally and can remain anonymous.

In case the investigation determines a deficiency in the facility, the management will need to submit a detailed plan for rectifying the problem. If the plan is approved, the facility administrator will be required to implement and oversee the plan to make sure that the problem is completely resolved.

Further to holding the facility responsible through filing a complaint with the Department of Health, a victim can hold the individual or facility responsible by suing them under personal injury law. Doing so can help the victim receive financial awards to help with any expenses related to neglect or abuse, which can include additional medical costs.

Do you Suspect Nursing Home Abuse in Virginia? Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you believe that your aging loved one is being subjected to abuse in a Virginia nursing home, it is important to take immediate action. You can report nursing home abuse to the Adult Protective Services (APS) division of the Virginia Department of Social Services by calling 1-888-832-3858. It is also a good idea to contact a seasoned nursing home abuse attorney to discuss your legal rights and options. At Olmstead & Olmstead, we are outraged by the treatment many of our seniors are receiving in nursing homes today. We are committed to obtaining justice for those who are experiencing abuse, and we work closely with our clients to help ensure that those responsible for this type of conduct are held fully accountable. Call our office today at 703-361-1555 or message us through our web contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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.