Wrongful Death Distribution
In a wrongful death action the distribution of damages is governed by the State Code. The class of beneficiaries is fixed as of the date of verdict, not as of the date of death. That is potentially significant if the decedent’s spouse is pregnant at the time of death.
In one decision reported by the Virginia Supreme Court a child who was adopted after the death of the decedent but before the jury verdict was allowed to recover as a statutory beneficiary.
Whether any amount of a wrongful death award is awarded to a particular beneficiary may be governed by whether or not that beneficiary is guilty of some negligence. If the beneficiary is guilty of negligence which contributed to the death, that may be a bar to any right of recovery.
As to any beneficiaries that are minors, it is generally a good idea to have a guardian ad litem appointed to protect the interest of that child and also to make sure that the child’s recovery is maximized.
In some instances there may be beneficiaries who are unwilling to cooperate. It is the role of the administrator in a case like that to exercise best efforts to achieve that cooperation. If that cooperation cannot be achieved from the beneficiaries, it may be necessary to take the deposition of the beneficiary in order to present evidence as to what are the losses of that beneficiary. Whatever the loss is of that beneficiary potentially increases the overall value of the case. If that beneficiary decides to renounce whatever entitlement he or she may have, then that share would go to the other beneficiaries.
In identifying potential beneficiaries, there may be some children that are legitimate children and others that are illegitimate. Legitimacy is not a prerequesite to being a beneficiary.
In addition, there may be beneficiaries of what is called the half-blood. A beneficiary of the half-blood is someone who is a half-brother or a half-sister of the decedent. In that instance, their entitlement is based upon that half-blood relationship.
For more information on wrongful death actions see the other pages on this site