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Virginia recognizes unborn babies as car accident victims

If a Virginia pregnant woman is injured in a car accident in Northern Virginia, the results can be doubly damaging. Injuries to the mother can cause severe harm to the fetus. In some instances, a car accident will prove fatal to the mother, to the fetus or to both. Accordingly, Virginia law allows for potential wrongful death lawsuits against negligent or reckless parties, which cause the death of a fetus.

In Virginia, a person who willfully and with premeditation kills a fetus in an illegal manner may be charged with a Class 2 Felony. It thus makes sense that in a state with fetal homicide laws, there may also be cause for wrongful death if a fetus is killed accidentally via car accident. The state statute defines the potential negligent parties as either a person, corporation, vessel or ship. The statute also defines the fetal death as caused by "neglect," "default" or a "wrongful act."

In certain key ways, a wrongful death action in Virginia regarding a fetal death differs from other wrongful death lawsuits. First, the lawsuit cannot be against the natural mother of the fetus. For instance, if an expecting mother takes large health risks and has a miscarriage as a result, a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be brought against her. In a typical wrongful death lawsuit, a family member or other representative may bring suit. In wrongful fetal death lawsuits only the natural mother may bring suit.

Some people may not understand why, following a wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent party, family members of a fetus would need compensation. In many wrongful death lawsuits, compensation is obtained because the deceased person was a wage-earner and supported the family or other dependents. A fetus, of course, cannot contribute financially but the law recognizes compensation may still be needed. This compensation can be for funeral expenses, medical expenses prior to death and mental pain and suffering.

Source: NCSL.org, "Fetal homicide laws," accessed on Nov. 7, 2014

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