Sleep Better at Night With Answers to Your Top Questions on Virginia Brain Injury Claims

Experiencing something as traumatic as an accident in Chesterfield County can leave your head spinning with questions and uncertainty. Get the answers you need fast in this FAQ series from Richmond brain injury attorney Kevin Mottley.

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  • How do you decide whether to take my brain injury case?

    I have certain criteria that help me decide whether to take a personal injury case.  Here are some of the most important questions I ask when making this decision in a mild traumatic brain injury case:

    • Does the potential client have an unresolved, symptomatic mild traumatic brain injury, and is this injury supported by the potential client’s medical records?  In other words, will a doctor who has examined and treated the potential client be able to testify that the person has a brain injury?
    • Does the potential client have friends, family members, co-workers, or doctors who have observed the plaintiff and who are willing and able to come to court and to the jury that there has been a notable change in the plaintiff since the accident?
    • Was the brain injury caused by an accident, and can it be successfully demonstrated to the jury how the injury was caused by the accident?
    • Who is the potential defendant, and does that defendant have sufficient assets or insurance coverage to satisfy a significant judgment for money damages in the case?
    • Who caused the accident, and was that person negligent?  If the potential client was partly to blame for the accident, this is a problem because Virginia law would bar the injured person from recovering any money from the potential defendant, even if the defendant was also negligent.

  • How do I find out if a power of attorney is being misused?

    Not everyone has a right to find out how a person has been using a power of attorney document.  Only certain people have that right. 

    First, if you are someone who represents the person who gave the power of attorney (referred to as the “principal”), such as an agent under another power of attorney, a guardian, a conservator, or another fiduciary, or if the person who gave the power of attorney has died, if you are the personal representative (executor) or successor in interest under the person’s estate, then you may demand that the person who had the power of attorney (also known as the “agent” or the “attorney-in-fact”) disclose to you all receipts, disbursements, or transactions that the agent engaged in on behalf of the principal.  The attorney-in-fact has 30 days to respond.

    Second, if the principal is currently incapacitated, and you are someone who is a close relative, beneficiary or caregiver for the person, then you may demand that the agent disclose all transactions to you in which the agent has used the power of attorney to act on behalf of the principal.

    There are time limits applicable to these requests and to the period of time for which the agent must disclose receipts, so you will need to have an attorney review the statutes for you and explain your rights to you.

  • How do I remove a power of attorney (an attorney-in-fact)?

    If you are a person who is entitled to obtain information from  an agent (an attorney-in-fact) and the agent fails or refuses to give that information to you, this is a basis for filing a complaint in circuit court to remove the agent.

    In addition, if you are the principal, a close relative of the principal, someone entitled to make health care decisions for the principal, the principal’s caregiver, a guardian, conservator, representative of the estate of a deceased principal, a person who is asked to accept a power of attorney, or a beneficiary of a principal’s estate, then you may petition a circuit court to review the agent’s conduct and to grant appropriate relief.  If it be shown that the agent has breached his or her duties as attorney-in-fact, then the court may order the removal of the agent.

  • What is undue influence?

    To raise a presumption of undue influence of a testator in making a will, the evidence must show three things.  First, that the testator was “enfeebled in mind” when the will was executed.  Second, that someone benefitted by the will stood in a position of trust with respect to the testator or that the testator depended upon the person.  Third, that the testator had previously expressed an intention to make a contrary disposition of his or her property.

  • What are the grounds for contesting a will in Virginia?

    Grounds for contesting a will under Virginia law include the following:

    • the formal requirements for making a will under Virginia law were not performed properly, rendering the document invalid as a will,
    • the document was not made with “testamentary intent,” meaning that the document sought to be admitted to probate as the decedent’s will was not intended by the decedent to be his or her last will,
    • the person who made the will lacked testamentary capacity to make the will,
    • the person who made the will was the victim of undue influence or duress at the hands of someone who is benefitted by the will, and
    • fraud.

  • What degree of testamentary capacity is required under Virginia law to make a will?

    You must understand that showing someone lacked testamentary capacity to make a will under Virginia law is exceedingly difficult.  A person making this claim must show, by strong evidence, that the person making the will did not have mind enough to understand the nature of the business in which he is engaged, to recollect the property being disposed of, the objects of his bounty, or the manner in which he wishes to distribute his property. 

    It is not enough to show that the person did not have the same quality of mind that he previously had, that the mind is debilitated, or that the testator is eccentric.  Just because someone lacks the mental strength and qualities to transact business affairs does not mean they cannot make a will.

  • How do you contest a will in Virginia?

    There are two ways under Virginia law to contest a will.  First, within 6 months after the clerk of the court enters the order that probates the will, any interested person may appeal that order to the circuit court.  The issue in these cases is whether the document admitted to probate actually is the decedent’s will.

    The second way to contest a will in Virginia is to file a complaint in circuit court seeking to impeach (challenge) the will as being the will of the decedent.  In such a case, the court is required by statute to empanel a jury to hear the case.  The sole issue for the jury to decide is whether the will that has been offered is, in fact, the will of the decedent.  The jury may also decide that some other paper produced at the trial is the actual will of the decedent.

  • What is “anoxia” and “hypoxia”?

    When blood flow to the brain is depleted of oxygen, then irreversible brain injury can occur from anoxia or hypoxia.  Anoxia is when the brain receives no oxygen.  Hypoxia is when the brain receives reduced oxygen.  This can occur within a short period of time, like minutes.  It can be caused by medical emergencies like heart attacks or respiratory failure.  If this type of brain injury happens, the consequences can be severe.

  • What is a “deceleration injury” (diffuse axonal injury)?

    This sort of injury to the brain occurs when sudden movement of the skull through space (i.e., acceleration) occurs.  When the skull stops moving, for whatever reason (say, for instance, it hits something or is suddenly forced to move in a different direction), then the gelatinous brain inside the hard skull continues to move inside the skull.  When this happens, an injury to the brain occurs.  This is often referred to as “diffuse axonal shearing” because, when the brain is slammed back and forth in the skull, it is compressed and stretched.  The fragile “axons”, which are part of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, are also compressed and stretched.  When this happens, they are injured.  This is called “axonal shearing” and, when this happens, the brain cell dies.

  • What is the Ranchos Los Amigos Scale?

    Like the Glasgow Coma Scale, the Ranchos Los Amigos Scale is a system used by medical professionals to evaluate victims of traumatic brain injuries, and is based on cognitive and behavioral presentations as victims emerge from a coma.  The scale runs from 1 to 8, with 1 being a person who is non-responsive and has no responsive cognitive functioning, while a score of 8 indicates appropriate and purposeful functioning.  Victims of traumatic brain injury will progress up the scale as they recover.  Recovery for victims is different from person to person, and some victims may plateau at a certain level on the scale.