This is part one of my layman’s explanation of the Virginia Wrongful Death Statute from the Code of Virginia.

These set of laws are known as Lord Campbell’s Act (an English term) that prior to their existence there was no right to recover when somebody was killed by someone else’s negligence. Lord Campbell’s Act provided a mechanism for the administrator of the deceased party’s estate to sue to recover for the wrongful death.

Most states now have some version of Lord Campbell’s Act in their law, including Virginia and North Carolina:

  • A wrongful death happens when somebody dies by a person or corporation’s actions or neglect. The person, corporations or owner of a ship or other vessel are held liable for the death. If a ship causes a wrongful death then you can sue the ship itself.
  • The deceased person must have a personal representative to file a claim. The claim must be filed within the statute of limitations.
  • If the deceased is an infant who was in one parent’s custody due to a court order or written agreement then that parent shall have the right to file a wrongful death claim. That parent may waive that right if they wish. If the parent or representatives’ claim is not filed within thirty days then the court can allow another party to apply to be the administrator of the estate.

§ 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. Every such action under this section shall be brought by and in the name of the personal representative of such deceased person within the time limits specified in § 8.01-244.

C. 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 thirty days from the death of the infant, administration shall be granted as in other cases.

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

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