Tort Law

Wrongful Death Damages

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Wrongful Death Damages

Brien Roche

This page within Virginia Tort Case Law is a compilation of cases reported by the Virginia Supreme Court and summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of Wrongful Death Damages.  

Wrongful Death Damages-Statutes


See Va. Code §§ 8.01-52 through 8.01-54.

Wrongful Death Damages-Cases

2008 Wright v. Minnicks, 275 Va. 579, 659 S.E.2d 276.

Trial court erred in setting aside the original wrongful death verdict for plaintiff and ordering a new trial. In this case there was evidence that plaintiff’s marriage to the decedent was dysfunctional but in spite of that the jury could properly conclude that there was a basis for awarding the wife compensatory damages for loss of the decedent’s income, services, protection, care, and assistance but awarding her no damages for solace. That verdict is not internally inconsistent and should have been allowed to stand.

2000 Jan Paul Fruiterman, M.D. & Assocs. v. Waziri, 259 Va. 540, 525 S.E.2d 552.

Jury in this case awarded damages of $655,973.46, a sum in addition to its award for expenses incurred. In this wrongful death action, the court held that evidence of sorrow, mental anguish, and solace fully supported jury award.

2000 Rice v. Charles, 260 Va. 157, 532 S.E.2d 318.

In this wrongful death action, jury returned verdict for the precise amount of the funeral expenses and awarded no monetary compensation for sorrow, mental anguish, and loss of solace. Verdict was inadequate as a matter of law.

1995 Hendrix v. Daugherty, 249 Va. 540, 457 S.E.2d 71.

Wrongful death act is clear that there cannot be recovery both for survival and wrongful death. Plaintiff must elect.

1988 Howell v. Cahoon, 236 Va. 3, 372 S.E.2d 363.

Statements of 18-year-old that he intended to become architect, put younger brother through medical school, and buy home for mother are too speculative.

1987 Graddy v. Hatchett, 233 Va. 65, 353 S.E.2d 741.

Life expectancy table is admissible into evidence if items of loss set forth in Va. Code § 8.01-52 are supported by evidence. $400,000 verdict for loss of companionship, etc., of minor decedent was not excessive.

1980 Marshall v. Goughnour, 221 Va. 265, 269 S.E.2d 801.

Dependency is not prerequisite. There must be proof of loss to beneficiary for damages to be awarded. Sixty-four-year-old decedent’s wages and retirement income were properly excluded since beneficiary presented no evidence of loss of income.

1980 Cassady v. Martin, 220 Va. 1093, 266 S.E.2d 104.

General objective of wrongful death action is to compensate beneficiary, and not to accumulate estate for decedent. Damages must be limited to loss sustained by beneficiary.

1976 Caputo v. Holt, 217 Va. 302, 228 S.E.2d 134.

Defendants were aware that decedent’s hospital and medical expenses had been paid out of proceeds of prior settlement. Pleadings and proceedings show defendants were not surprised by proof limited to solace, though pleadings were limited to “compensatory” damages. Instruction of trial court, tailored to provisions of statute which allows damages for solace, was supported by evidence.

1975 Bickley v. Farmer, 215 Va. 484, 211 S.E.2d 66.

Statute gives jury absolute discretion in apportionment of award for death by wrongful act.

1972 Budzinski v. Harris, 213 Va. 107, 189 S.E.2d 372.

Where damages in wrongful death case are limited to solace and expenses incident to death, life expectancy of decedent or any beneficiary is irrelevant.

1972 Patton v. Rose, 213 Va. 36, 189 S.E.2d 385.

Decedent had been totally disabled prior to death and he supported his children with food stamps and veteran’s pension. No evidence of monetary contribution, or services having monetary value, especially where dependents received his social security and veteran’s benefits after his death. Error to include damages for financial and pecuniary loss.

1972 Denby v. Davis, 212 Va. 836, 188 S.E.2d 226.

Damages for financial or pecuniary loss to dependents includes monetary contributions and services rendered dependents that relate to and have monetary value. In this case, $8,000 improperly awarded to ten-year-old brother of ten-year-old decedent. Fact that decedent had acted like “little mother” to brother was insufficient evidence of financial or pecuniary loss.

1972 Claar v. Culpepper, 212 Va. 771, 188 S.E.2d 86.

Jury awarded damages to decedent’s son for pecuniary loss. Decedent had no earnings and made no monetary contribution to family. Record does not show what services if any, were rendered by decedent and thus there was no basis for awarding damages for loss of services.

1972 Pugh v. Yearout, 212 Va. 591, 186 S.E.2d 58.

Wife died. She earned approximately $230 per month in addition to performing household chores. For purposes of statute, husband and daughter were her dependents although husband earned more than wife. And they were entitled to recover for pecuniary loss incurred by having to pay substitute to do housework. Referring to long line of Virginia decisions, Supreme Court stated that evidence of pecuniary condition of either deceased or beneficiaries was inadmissible as was their physical condition except on question of apportionment of damages.

1968 Breeding v. Johnson, 208 Va. 652, 159 S.E.2d 836.

Measure of damages is pecuniary loss sustained by beneficiaries. They may be compensated for their loss of decedent’s care, attention and society and for their solace and comfort for sorrow and suffering occasioned by death. Normally, evidence regarding magnitude and seriousness of injuries is not admissible.

1967 Virginia Transit v. Hill, 208 Va. 171, 156 S.E.2d 888.

Jury may infer that death of decedent may result in sorrow and anguish to family although no direct proof offered. In wrongful death action, evidence of character and habits of decedent are frequently admissible as to damages. This is especially true where pecuniary loss to beneficiaries is in issue. Where this is not in issue, then character and habit are properly excluded.

1967 Wilson v. Whittaker, 207 Va. 1032, 154 S.E.2d 124.

In wrongful death action, damages may be awarded not only for pecuniary loss suffered by beneficiaries, but for loss of deceased’s care and society and as solatium for their sorrow and mental anguish. Pain and anguish suffered by deceased, his medical and funeral expenses are not allowable elements of damage. Punitive damages not recoverable in wrongful death action.

1964 Eisenhower v. Jeter, 205 Va. 159, 135 S.E.2d 786.

Term pecuniary loss, when used in instruction in connection with what damages are recoverable, is to be given liberal interpretation. Jury instructed they could consider decedent’s age, intelligence, and health in determining pecuniary loss. Error: no evidence of intelligence or health.

1958 Basham v. Terry, 199 Va. 817, 102 S.E.2d 285.

Warrants sworn out by wife and daughter of decedent charging decedent with assault, were properly admissible to show nature of relationship and to contradict wife and daughter. Counsel for defendant was entitled to prove decedent’s conduct, habits, and character of his home life in mitigation of damages, where plaintiff had injected this issue into case.

1955 Gough v. Shatter, 197 Va. 572, 90 S.E.2d 171.

Jury may award such damages as seem fair and just and consider pecuniary loss of decedent’s parents and sister. Term pecuniary loss is to be liberally construed. It includes present and future losses.

1955 Matthews v. Hicks, 197 Va. 112, 87 S.E.2d 629.

Evidence of pecuniary and physical condition of deceased or beneficiaries is inadmissible as to liability or quantum of damages, but is admissible as to apportionment. Virginia wrongful death statute does not confine jury to award of pecuniary damages only. They may award such damages as they consider fair and just. No beneficiary in class named in statute is barred from recovery unless guilty of wrongful act proximately causing or contributing to fatal injury. Specifically, spouse who has deserted decedent and lived in adultery is not barred from sharing in recovery; however, such evidence is admissible on issue of quantum of damages, unless evidence clearly shows reconciliation in good faith.

1955 Jessee v. Slate, 196 Va. 1074, 86 S.E.2d 821.

There was no error in admitting evidence that decedent, at time of his death, was receiving monthly income in social security payments.

1954 Conrad v. Thompson, 195 Va. 714, 80 S.E.2d 561.

Hospital, medical, and funeral expenses are not proper elements of damage in wrongful death action. Wrongful death action is for benefit of relatives and not estate.

1953 Wolfe v. Lockhart, 195 Va. 479, 78 S.E.2d 654.

Instruction in wrongful death case, which told jury to fix their verdict on such sum as would equal probable earnings of deceased, was not proper. Phrase “fixing such sum with reference to probable earnings of deceased” was proper. Proper measure of damages include: loss of decedent’s care, attention and society; and sorrow, suffering and mental anguish occasioned beneficiaries by reason of his death; moreover, these damages can be awarded without any expectancy of support from decedent had he not been killed. Although expectancy of support is also to be considered, it is not sole basis of recovery.

1947 Gallagher v. Stathis, 186 Va. 444, 43 S.E.2d 33.

Decedent was five-year-old child. Court ruled that defendant was properly denied instruction which stated that “there is no evidence of any pecuniary loss by the death of the child.”

1946 Highway Express Lines v. Fleming, 185 Va. 666, 40 S.E.2d 294.

Jury verdict assessing damages for wrongful death is final and Supreme Court has no authority to disturb it.

1944 Porter v. VEPCO, 183 Va. 108, 31 S.E.2d 337.

Damages recoverable in wrongful death action are not part of estate of decedent. They are not subject to dower or curtesy of surviving spouse.

For more information on wrongful death see the pages on Wikipedia.

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Wrongful Death Damages

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