Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 8.01. Civil Remedies and Procedure
Chapter 3. Actions

Article 5. Death by Wrongful Act.

§ 8.01-50. Action for death by wrongful act; how and when to be brought.

A. Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person or corporation, or of any ship or vessel, and the act, neglect, or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action, or to proceed in rem against such ship or vessel or in personam against the owners thereof or those having control of her, and to recover damages in respect thereof, then, and in every such case, the person who, or corporation or ship or vessel which, would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, or, if a ship or vessel, to a libel in rem, and her owners or those responsible for her acts or defaults or negligence to a libel in personam, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances, as amount in law to a felony.

B. Whenever a fetal death, as defined in § 32.1-249, is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person, ship, vessel, or corporation, the natural mother of the fetus may bring an action pursuant to this section against such tortfeasor. Nothing in this section shall be construed to create a cause of action for a fetal death against the natural mother of the fetus.

C. Every such action under subsection A shall be brought by and in the name of the personal representative of such deceased person. Actions for fetal death under subsection B shall be brought by and in the name of the natural mother; provided, however, if the natural mother dies, or is or becomes a person under a disability as defined in § 8.01-2, such action may be initiated or maintained by the administrator of the natural mother's estate, her guardian, or her personal representative qualified to bring such action. In an action for fetal death under subsection B brought under Chapter 21.1 (§ 8.01-581.1 et seq.) where the wrongful act that resulted in a fetal death also resulted in the death of another fetus of the natural mother or in the death or injury of the natural mother, recovery for all damages sustained as a result of such wrongful act shall not exceed the limitations on the total amount recoverable for a single patient for any injury under § 8.01-581.15. The person bringing an action under subsection B shall have the power to compromise a claim pursuant to § 8.01-55 and any damages recovered shall be distributed pursuant to this article. Every such action under this section shall be brought within the time limits specified in § 8.01-244.

D. If the deceased person was an infant who was in the custody of a parent pursuant to an order of court or written agreement with the other parent, administration shall be granted first to the parent having custody; however, that parent may waive his right to qualify in favor of any other person designated by him. If no such parent or his designee applies for administration within 30 days from the death of the infant, administration shall be granted as in other cases.

E. For purposes of this section, "natural mother" means the woman carrying the child.

Code 1950, § 8-633; 1958, c. 470; 1977, c. 617; 1981, c. 115; 2012, c. 725.

§ 8.01-50.1. Certification of expert witness opinion at time of service of process.

Every motion for judgment, counter claim, or third party claim in any action pursuant to § 8.01-50 for wrongful death against a health care provider, at the time the plaintiff requests service of process upon a defendant, or requests a defendant to accept service of process, shall be deemed a certification that the plaintiff has obtained from an expert witness whom the plaintiff reasonably believes would qualify as an expert witness pursuant to subsection A of § 8.01-581.20 a written opinion signed by the expert witness that, based upon a reasonable understanding of the facts, the defendant for whom service of process has been requested deviated from the applicable standard of care and the deviation was a proximate cause of the injuries claimed. This certification is not necessary if the plaintiff, in good faith, alleges in his wrongful death action a medical malpractice theory of liability where expert testimony is unnecessary because the alleged act of negligence clearly lies within the range of the jury's common knowledge and experience.

The certifying expert shall not be required to be an expert expected to testify at trial nor shall any defendant be entitled to discover the identity or qualifications of the certifying expert or the nature of the certifying expert's opinions. Should the certifying expert be identified as an expert expected to testify at trial, the opinions and bases therefor shall be discoverable pursuant to Rule 4:1 of the Rules of Supreme Court of Virginia with the exception of the expert's status as a certifying expert.

Upon written request of any defendant, the plaintiff shall, within 10 business days after receipt of such request, provide the defendant with a certification form which affirms that the plaintiff had obtained the necessary certifying expert opinion at the time service was requested or affirms that the plaintiff did not need to obtain a certifying expert opinion. The court, upon good cause shown, may conduct an in camera review of the certifying expert opinion obtained by the plaintiff as the court may deem appropriate. If the plaintiff did not obtain a necessary certifying expert opinion at the time the plaintiff requested service of process on a defendant, the court shall impose sanctions according to the provisions of § 8.01-271.1 and may dismiss the case with prejudice.

2005, cc. 649, 692; 2007, c. 489; 2013, cc. 65, 610.

§ 8.01-51. No action when deceased has compromised claim.

No action shall be maintained by the personal representative of one who, after injury, has compromised for such injury and accepted satisfaction therefor previous to his death.

Code 1950, § 8-635; 1977, c. 617.

§ 8.01-52. Amount of damages.

The jury or the court, as the case may be, in any such action under § 8.01-50 may award such damages as to it may seem fair and just. The verdict or judgment of the court trying the case without a jury shall include, but may not be limited to, damages for the following:

1. Sorrow, mental anguish, and solace which may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent;

2. Compensation for reasonably expected loss of (i) income of the decedent and (ii) services, protection, care and assistance provided by the decedent;

3. Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in death;

4. Reasonable funeral expenses; and

5. Punitive damages may be recovered for willful or wanton conduct, or such recklessness as evinces a conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Damages recoverable under 3, 4 and 5 above shall be specifically stated by the jury or the court, as the case may be. Damages recoverable under 3 and 4 above shall be apportioned among the creditors who rendered such services, as their respective interests may appear. Competent expert testimony shall be admissible in proving damages recoverable under 2 above.

The court shall apportion the costs of the action as it shall deem proper.

Code 1950, § 8-636.1; 1974, c. 444; 1977, cc. 460, 617; 1982, c. 441.

§ 8.01-52.1. Admissibility of expressions of sympathy.

In any wrongful death action brought pursuant to § 8.01-50 against a health care provider, or in any arbitration or medical malpractice review panel proceeding related to such wrongful death action, the portion of statements, writings, affirmations, benevolent conduct, or benevolent gestures expressing sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence, together with apologies that are made by a health care provider or an agent of a health care provider to a relative of the patient, or a representative of the patient about the death of the patient as a result of the unanticipated outcome of health care, shall be inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability or as evidence of an admission against interest. A statement of fault that is part of or in addition to any of the above shall not be made inadmissible by this section.

For purposes of this section, unless the context otherwise requires:

"Health care" has the same definition as provided in § 8.01-581.1.

"Health care provider" has the same definition as provided in § 8.01-581.1.

"Relative" means a decedent's spouse, parent, grandparent, stepfather, stepmother, child, grandchild, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, or spouse's parents. In addition, "relative" includes any person who had a family-type relationship with the decedent.

"Representative" means a legal guardian, attorney, person designated to make decisions on behalf of a patient under a medical power of attorney, or any person recognized in law or custom as a patient's agent.

"Unanticipated outcome" means the outcome of the delivery of health care that differs from an expected result.

2005, cc. 649, 692; 2009, c. 414.

§ 8.01-53. Class and beneficiaries; when determined.

A. The damages awarded pursuant to § 8.01-52 shall be distributed as specified under § 8.01-54 to (i) the surviving spouse, children of the deceased and children of any deceased child of the deceased, and, only if there is a surviving spouse, children of the deceased, or children of any deceased child of the deceased, the parents of the decedent if any of such parents, within 12 months prior to the decedent's death, regularly received support or regularly received services from the decedent for necessaries, including living expenses, food, shelter, health care expenses, or in-home assistance or care, or (ii) if there is no surviving spouse, children of the deceased, or children of any deceased child of the deceased, then to the parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased, and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (iii) if the decedent has left both surviving spouse and parent or parents, but no child or grandchild, the award shall be distributed to the surviving spouse and such parent or parents or (iv) if there are survivors under clause (i) or clause (iii), the award shall be distributed to those beneficiaries and to any other relative who is primarily dependent on the decedent for support or services and is also a member of the same household as the decedent or (v) if no survivors exist under clause (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), the award shall be distributed in the course of descents as provided for in § 64.2-200. Provided, however, no parent whose parental rights and responsibilities have been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction or pursuant to a permanent entrustment agreement with a child welfare agency shall be eligible as a beneficiary under this section. For purposes of this section, a relative is any person related to the decedent by blood, marriage, or adoption and also includes a stepchild of the decedent.

B. The class and beneficiaries thereof eligible to receive such distribution shall be fixed (i) at the time the verdict is entered if the jury makes the specification, or (ii) at the time the judgment is rendered if the court specifies the distribution.

C. A beneficiary may renounce his interest in any claim brought pursuant to § 8.01-50 and, in such event, the damages shall be distributed to the beneficiaries in the same class as the renouncing beneficiary or, if there are none, to the beneficiaries in any subsequent class in the order of priority set forth in subsection A.

Code 1950, §§ 8-636.1, 8-638; 1954, c. 333; 1973, c. 401; 1974, c. 444; 1977, cc. 460, 617; 1979, c. 356; 1992, c. 74; 1994, c. 515; 2003, c. 632; 2019, cc. 47, 328; 2021, Sp. Sess. I, c. 488.

§ 8.01-54. Judgment to distribute recovery when verdict fails to do so.

A. The verdict may and the judgment of the court shall in all cases specify the amount or the proportion to be received by each of the beneficiaries, if there be any. No verdict shall be set aside for failure to make such specification.

B. If either party shall so request the case shall be submitted to the jury with instructions to specify the distribution of the award, if any. If the jury be unable to agree upon or fail to make such distribution, the court shall specify the distribution and enter judgment accordingly. For the purpose of distribution the court may hear additional evidence.

C. The amount recovered in any such action shall be paid to the personal representative who shall first pay the costs and reasonable attorney's fees and then distribute the amount specifically allocated to the payment of hospital, medical, and funeral expenses. The remainder of the amount recovered shall thereafter be distributed by the personal representative, as specified in subsections A and B above, to the beneficiaries set forth in § 8.01-53; provided that any distribution made to any such beneficiaries shall be free from all debts and liabilities of the decedent. If there be no such beneficiaries, the amount so recovered shall be assets in the hands of the personal representative to be disposed of according to law.

Code 1950, § 8-638; 1954, c. 333; 1973, c. 401; 1977, c. 617.

§ 8.01-55. Compromise of claim for death by wrongful act.

The personal representative of the deceased may compromise any claim to damages arising under or by virtue of § 8.01-50, including claims under the provision of a liability insurance policy, before or after an action is brought, with the approval of the court in which the action was brought, or if an action has not been brought, with the consent of any circuit court. Such approval may be applied for on petition to such court, by the personal representative, or by any potential defendant, or by any interested insurance carrier. If a potential defendant or any insurance carrier petitions the court for approval, the personal representative shall be made a party to the proceeding. The petition shall state the compromise, its terms and the reason therefor. The court shall require the convening of the parties in interest in person or by their authorized representative, but it shall not be necessary to convene grandchildren whose living parents are made parties to the proceeding. The parties in interest shall be deemed to be convened if each such party (i) endorses the order by which the court approves the compromise or (ii) is given notice of the hearing and proposed compromise as provided in § 8.01-296 if a resident of the Commonwealth or as provided in § 8.01-320 if a nonresident, or is otherwise given reasonable notice of the hearing and proposed compromise as may be required by the court.

If the court approves the compromise, and the parties in interest do not agree upon the distribution to be made of what has been or may be received by the personal representative under such compromise, or if any of them are incapable of making a valid agreement, the court shall direct such distribution as a jury might direct under § 8.01-52 as to damages awarded by them. In other respects, what is received by the personal representative under the compromise shall be treated as if recovered by him in an action under § 8.01-52.

Code 1950, § 8-639; 1960, cc. 35, 587; 1977, c. 617; 1981, c. 286; 1991, c. 97; 1995, c. 366.

§ 8.01-56. When right of action not to determine nor action to abate.

The right of action under § 8.01-50 shall not determine, nor the action, when brought, abate by the death, dissolution, or other termination of a defendant; and when a person who has brought an action for personal injury dies pending the action, such action may be revived in the name of his personal representative. If death resulted from the injury for which the action was originally brought, a motion for judgment and other pleadings shall be amended so as to conform to an action under § 8.01-50, and the case proceeded with as if the action had been brought under such section. In such cases, however, there shall be but one recovery for the same injury.

Code 1950, § 8-640; 1954, c. 333; 1977, c. 617.