Who Can Sue For Wrongful Death In Pennsylvania?


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The only thing worse than losing a loved one, is losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. Many people in that situation may want to seek justice on their loved one’s behalf, but the legal proceedings can seem quite overwhelming, especially when you are still grieving.

There is no amount of compensation that can make up for the loss of your loved one, and thinking about it at such an emotional time can be difficult. For that reason, it may be in your best interest to talk with a wrongful death attorney and let him or her handle it for you. Wrongful death lawsuits can be complicated and time-consuming. It’s better to let an expert take care of it.

When Does A Wrongful Death Claim Apply?

A wrongful death claim applies when someone who would otherwise have a personal injury claim is killed – either due to negligence or an intentional harmful act on the part of the defendant. This can happen in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • When a victim is killed intentionally. When a murder is committed, the defendant can be sued for wrongful death separately from any criminal case brought against him or her.
  • When a victim dies due to medical malpractice. If a doctor failed to diagnose a condition, misdiagnosed a condition, or was negligent in the level of care provided, and the patient died as a result, then a wrongful death claim can be made against the doctor.
  • When a victim dies as the result of a car crash or other accident involving negligence. If a person dies due to an accident that was another person’s fault, a wrongful death claim may be filed.

The above are only a few examples illustrating how personal injury cases can become wrongful death lawsuits. Generally, a wrongful death claim can stem from almost any personal injury situation in which the victim dies.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death claim has to be filed by the personal representative of the victim’s estate. The personal representative is assigned either according to the deceased’s will. In the event that there isn’t a will, the court may assign a personal representative.

Although the personal representative is the one who files the claim for wrongful death, it is filed on behalf of the beneficiaries of the victim’s estate. The beneficiaries are considered the “real parties in interest.” In Pennsylvania, the real parties in interest are limited to the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, whether or not those individuals are citizens or residents of the Commonwealth or live elsewhere. That means that brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc., of the deceased have no cause of action under Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act.

If the personal representative of the victim’s estate fails to file the wrongful death claim within six months of the date of death, then any of the beneficiaries may file on behalf of all the beneficiaries.

What Damages May Be Sued For In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the defendant’s liability is expressed only in terms of monetary damages. Damages that may be awarded in a Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Hospital and medical expenses
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Lost wages and benefits – this includes the amount the deceased would have been expected to contribute to the family’s support had he or she lived
  • Compensation for the loss of household services, society, and comfort provided by the deceased, including provision of physical comforts and services and moral guidance, comfort, and support
  • Compensation for pain and suffering

Damages for loss of comfort, companionship, and guidance are meant to compensate the surviving family members for their losses related to the wrongful death. Thus, these damages are only available if the victim left a surviving spouse, children, or parents.

Damages for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and estate administration expenses, however, compensate the estate for the costs related to the wrongful death. The personal representative may seek these damages in court even if there are no surviving spouse, children, or parents.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Distributed?

In Pennsylvania, the courts distribute the damages to wrongful death beneficiaries as follows:

  • If there was a surviving spouse and no children or parents – everything goes to the spouse.
  • If there was a surviving spouse and a surviving parent but no children – the spouse will get the first $30,000 and half of the remaining settlement, the courts will divide the remaining portion of the settlement between the deceased’s parents equally.
  • If there was a surviving spouse and surviving children – the spouse will get the first $30,000 and half of the remaining settlement, and if the children belong to the surviving spouse, the courts will divide the remaining portion of the settlement between the children equally.
  • If there were surviving children and no spouse – the children will get the entire settlement, divided equally amongst them.
  • If there were surviving parents and no children or spouse – the parents will share the settlement equally.
  • If there were no surviving spouse, children, or parents – courts will divide the settlement amongst the deceased’s brothers, sisters, or nieces and nephews.

How To Find Help For Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Wrongful death lawsuits are often very complicated and may take a long time to settle or litigate. You need a compassionate, experienced wrongful death attorney to advocate or you and your family. At Ross Feller Casey, we can provide you with the help and support you need during this difficult time.

It is important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible, as you only have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

At Ross Feller Casey, cases are handled on a contingency basis, so you will not have a charge until a financial recovery is made. Please call to speak to one of our wrongful death attorneys today for your free case review.

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.