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Who can file a wrongful death claim in West Virginia?

Accidents of one type or another happen every day in and around Charleston. Nobody is perfect, and accidents are a part of life. For many people, an accident might amount to something relatively harmless, like a minor slip-and-fall that causes no injuries. In other cases, however, an accident can result in serious injuries and death.

When accidents like a car crash or medical error turn deadly, anyone whose negligence caused the accident can be held accountable in a wrongful death lawsuit. Unlike other types of personal injury lawsuits, the victim in a wrongful death case is no longer alive to pursue the claim. Thus, who can file a wrongful death lawsuit against any negligent parties?

Under West Virginia law, a personal representative of the deceased person is responsible for pursuing a wrongful death cause of action. A personal representative is usually a surviving spouse, child or other close family member of the deceased person. Therefore, before a wrongful death case can move forward, the court must first accept and appoint the family member or other person as the deceased victim's personal representative.

Although the personal representative is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim, that person does not necessarily recover monetary compensation from the case. In many cases, however, the personal representative will also be a beneficiary of the deceased person's estate, and thus will ultimately receive at least some of the monetary award. Likewise, the personal representative must distribute the award to any other people who are legally entitled to receive a portion of the money.

Nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one. But money damages are the only means that the legal system has of compensating a victim's survivors when someone else's negligence caused the victim's death. Wrongful death lawsuits are the avenue by which people can hold negligent parties accountable for deadly incidents like medical malpractice or fatal car accidents. Like all other legal claims, filers must ensure that they are properly following all of the procedures of West Virginia law.

Source: West Virginia Code, "ยง55-7-6. By whom action for wrongful death to be brought; amount and distribution of damages; period of limitation," Accessed on Jan. 27, 2016

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