When Something Isn’t Right: Handling a Wrongful Death Case is a Serious Undertaking

Wrongful death actions are among the most emotionally and legally difficult negligence cases in West Virginia. The loss to the family is often devastating beyond words and almost impossible to value in a meaningful way. Moreover, these cases fall under the West Virginia wrongful death statute. This law has some unusual requirements. There is a limitation on damages and strict rules as to who can file claims.

An experienced wrongful death attorney helps families successfully navigate this emotional and legal minefield. The best way to see how a lawyer works is to look at the three most common kinds of wrongful death cases in West Virginia.

Unintentional Poisoning

Oxycontin, Percocet, Fentanyl, and other opioid-based painkillers are more widely available, and more powerful, than ever before. Most of these painkillers are stronger than heroin. In some cases, including the Fentanyl patches which apparently killed singer Prince Nelson, addiction is possible even if the patient does not abuse the drug.

Arguably, people become addicted to these drugs because of the over-availability. Between 2007 and 2017, one company shipped almost twenty-one million pills to Williamson, West Virginia (population 2,900). Clearly, someone was negligent somewhere in the process.

Sometimes, doctors are responsible. There are many “pill mills” in West Virginia where physicians write prescriptions and do not ask questions. There is a very high standard of care in the doctor-patient relationship, so negligence is rather easy to establish in these cases.

The negligence per se shortcut often applies in these cases. The tortfeasor (negligent actor) is usually financially responsible for damages as a matter of law if s/he:

  • Violates a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially caused the damages.

This rule may become more widely available in West Virginia poisoning cases. Gov. Jim Justice recently signed a new law limiting opioid prescriptions.

Motor Vehicle Crashes

The negligence per se rule is often available in fatal car accident cases as well. Infractions such as speeding, DUI, and illegal lane change are very common in these cases.

A plaintiff may also bring a traditional negligence case to obtain financial compensation. Damages in these cases include money for both direct losses, such as medical bills related to the decedent’s final injury or illness, and indirect losses. That latter category includes things like lost emotional guidance for minor children and loss of financial support for a family.


Accidental falls are the leading cause of death among older people. In most cases, these incidents are not “accidental” in the ordinary sense of that word. Wet spots on floors, loose stairway rails, uneven steps, and burned-out lights cause many falls among the elderly.

Negligence per se may apply in these cases. Each West Virginia municipality has its own building codes and other such regulations. Plaintiffs may also obtain compensation by establishing that the property owner:

  • Had a legal obligation to keep the premises reasonably safe, and
  • Knew, or should have known, about a dangerous condition.

The plaintiff must establish each element of a negligence or negligence per se case by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Contact an attorney today to help ensure fair compensation in a wrongful death case.

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