In a typical year, more than 5,000 people die in workplace accidents or injuries suffered in job site accidents, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 192 fatal occupational injuries in the Richmond, Virginia, area from 2008 through 2017.
Can I Sue Over Workplace Injuries Causing Death?
As a Virginia injury attorney who handles workers’ compensation claims and wrongful death claims in Virginia, Attorney David Kendall assists grieving families after the death of their loved ones. Most families that file a wrongful death lawsuit are seeking some means of reestablishing financial security, replacing the earnings lost with the family member’s death and paying the bills from funeral and burial costs. They ask whether someone can be held accountable for the unjust loss and burden they now have to bear.
In most fatal workplace accident cases, the compensation available to the surviving family members comes from workers’ compensation insurance benefits. But there are certain cases in which a wrongful death lawsuit is also allowable after a job-related death. A wrongful death recovery can provide additional compensation to the family.
If you find yourself in the terrible situation of having lost a loved one in a workplace accident in Virginia, please contact a workers’ compensation wrongful death lawyer at Kendall Law Firm in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Staunton, and Woodstock. Attorney David Kendall knows Virginia’s workers’ compensation system and wrongful death laws. Our legal team knows how to obtain justice in the form of compensation to your family.
Wrongful Death and Workers’ Compensation in Virginia
Under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, most employers in the state are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for their employees. Workers’ compensation insurance pays benefits when employees become injured or die because of job-related accidents or work-related diseases.
Workers’ comp is no-fault insurance. An injured or ill worker or the surviving family members do not need to demonstrate that someone else is responsible for the employee’s injury or death to be eligible for compensation. However, in most cases, neither an injured worker nor the surviving family of a worker killed on the job is allowed to sue an employer for a workplace injury or death.
However, some fatal accidents involve multiple companies or subcontractors working on the same job site. Other than the worker’s direct employers, any other business or individual connected to a workplace fatal accident or occupational illness may be held legally liable if their negligence led to a worker’s death or injury. Such third parties may include:
- Fellow employees
- Clients / customers
- Jobsite visitors
- Individuals visited as part of job duties
- Property owners
- Equipment or tool manufacturers.
A third-party wrongful death lawsuit may be pursued by a personal representative of the victim’s surviving family members and estate. It would need to demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of the deceased’s death.
There are numerous ways a third party might be responsible for an employee’s death. A few examples include:
- A contractor erects scaffolding or operates a crane on a construction site and is negligent, which leads to a fatal scaffolding accident or crane collapse.
- A heavy equipment operator, employed by one company at a construction site, acts negligently and a construction worker for another subcontractor is killed as a result. The heavy equipment operator and his employer may be held liable through a wrongful death lawsuit.
- A person whose job involves driving is killed in a traffic accident caused by another motorist who was negligent. The at-fault motorist may be held accountable through a wrongful death lawsuit.
A homeowner allows their dog to attack and kill a delivery person. A cleaning crew from an industrial maintenance company leaves a cord, equipment or debris in a walkway, and a worker trips falls and suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is eventually the manufacturer of a building material fails to disclose that its components could be deadly when the material is cut to be used as intended.
Engineered Stone and Silica Dust Potential Source of Wrongful Death Claims
A National Public Radio report says workers who cut, grind and polish artificial, or “engineered,” stone mostly made of the mineral silica are dying after inhaling dangerous amounts of lung-damaging silica dust.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recorded 18 cases of “severe silicosis” as of late September, including two deaths, among people who worked with engineered stone in California, Colorado, Texas and Washington. A recent study in Australia found that at least 12% of workers who cut stone countertops had silicosis.
A wrongful death lawsuit would have to show that manufacturers of artificial stone knew or should have known that their products could be deadly to workers who did not use proper protection while cutting it to fit as countertops or other surfaces and that they did nothing to warn of the danger.
OSHA has proposed changing rules to further restrict workers’ exposure to crystalline silica dust due to potential damage to workers’ lungs. The proposed rule is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases, the agency says. OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once its full effects are realized.
Process of Wrongful Death Cases in Virginia
In Virginia, a wrongful death lawsuit is filed in the name of a “personal representative” of the victim’s surviving family members and estate. Certain people may obtain compensation from the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit, including the deceased’s:
- Children (or the children of a deceased child)
- Siblings (brothers and sisters)
- Other relatives (s) dependent on the victim for support and services at the time of death and a member of the same household (including those related by blood, marriage or adoption).
If there are no surviving family members, the right to pursue a wrongful death case could be claimed by whoever would be allowed to inherit the victim’s estate under Virginia’s intestacy laws.
While workers’ compensation pays for medical costs and provides a death benefit to survivors based on the deceased’s earnings, a wrongful death claim may seek compensation for:
- Medical expenses for treatment of the injury that led to death
- Reasonable funeral expenses
- Reasonably expected costs of losing the deceased’s income and services, protection, care and assistance
- Sorrow, mental anguish and solace
- Loss of the deceased’s society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice.
As your attorney, the Kendall Law Firm would:
- Conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether a third party was responsible for your loved one’s death and gather evidence to support your claim
- Make sure a wrongful death lawsuit is filed in a timely manner
- Negotiate with the defendant’s insurers for a full and fair wrongful death settlement
- Present a solid case in court (if necessary)
- Ensure your settlement or jury award is collected and distributed as efficiently as possible.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In most cases, a wrongful death claim in Virginia must be filed within two years of the victim’s death. However, the statute of limitations provides for more time in certain circumstances that may apply in your case.
When Should I Contact a Wrongful death Lawyer?
It is crucial that you contact an attorney as soon as you can after the death of a loved one in a workplace accident or due to a job-related illness. There are many ways that insurers, the deceased’s employer, or representatives of third parties may try to block an investigation into a workplace death. Two years can pass quickly as we pursue a complex investigation.
Please contact the Kendall Law Firm in Charlottesville as soon as possible for a free, no–obligation discussion of how we can help you.