It is devastating to lose a family member. However, the grief can be made far worse when the death of your family member could’ve been prevented. That is what happens when a loved one dies due to the negligence or mistake of a medical professional. When this happens, the family is often overwhelmed, focusing on dealing with grief and planning funeral services. It may not seem like the right time to be concerned about a wrongful death lawsuit, but the death and the family’s loss shouldn’t go unanswered.

If this has happened to your family, you may be wondering how to proceed with a wrongful death claim, and whether the claim must be made by your deceased loved one’s estate. Pennsylvania law provides family members who have suffered a loss due to wrongful death with some options that allow them to seek compensation for their loss, but an estate must first be established.

Who Can Sue on Behalf of the Estate in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Whenever there is a death that occurs due to someone’s (other than the decedent’s) negligence, it may give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit. However, the state of Pennsylvania limits who can file the lawsuit to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.

Generally, a personal representative of an estate is appointed according to the will of the decedent. The individual will usually choose a close relative, like a spouse, adult child, or parent to oversee the financial concerns of the person after his or her death. Sometimes, a person will die without having a will. When that happens, Pennsylvania courts may appoint a personal representative to handle the estate, as well as any wrongful death claims.

While the personal representative is the individual who is required to file the wrongful death lawsuit, he or she is doing so on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the beneficiaries may be the decedent’s:

  • Parents
  • Spouse 
  • Children 
  • Personal representative (if there is no other close relative as mentioned) 

Pennsylvania law makes a clear distinction between who is to file the wrongful death claim, and who is to receive the damages awarded. Only the personal representative of the estate may file, while the court will only award damages to the beneficiaries of the estate.

What Types of Damages are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Case?

While you may not be thinking about financial compensation as you are grieving your lost loved one, it can become critical for you and your family in the future. You will likely have numerous expenses related to the care and death of your loved one and may be entitled to compensation for them. Additionally, you may be entitled to damages related to the emotional suffering you have endured. Damages that are typically awarded in wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • All medical expenses related to the injury and death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost wages and government benefits
  • Loss of emotional support, household services, and care that the decedent would have provided
  • Loss of financial support
  • Pain and suffering of surviving family members
  • Punitive damages (when the defendant’s behavior was intentional, reckless, or egregious) 

How Are Wrongful Death Damages Distributed?

There are state rules in Pennsylvania that establish the manner in which wrongful death damages are distributed. It is not dependent on what is designated in the will of the decedent. State law gives priority to the spouse and children of the decedent, followed by surviving parents. Siblings are not permitted to recover damages for wrongful death in Pennsylvania.

Here’s an example of how it works based on the who the surviving family members are:

  • Surviving spouse with no children – spouse receives damages
  • Surviving children with no spouse – children receive damages
  • Surviving spouse and children – spouse is awarded the first $30,000 and half of the remainder, children receive the balance
  • Surviving spouse and parents with no children – spouse is awarded the first $30,000 and half of the remainder, parents receive the balance
  • Surviving parents with no spouse or children – parents receive damages 

One thing to note in Pennsylvania is that compensation awarded in wrongful death lawsuits cannot be used to pay creditors of the decedent. The money is for the estate and close family members with no exceptions.

Let Ross Feller Casey Help You with Your Wrongful Death Case

If you have lost a family member and believe that you have a case of wrongful death, Ross Feller Casey can help you with a wrongful death lawsuit. Let one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys review your case and help you decide how to proceed.

We offer free case evaluations and all our wrongful death lawsuits are handled on a contingency basis, so there is no cost to you until your case is settled or won.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.