Pennsylvania law defines wrongful death as an avoidable event caused by unlawful actions, recklessness or negligence by a person or business.
Certain parties directly related to or dependent on the deceased individual may be entitled to seek damages for the death of a loved one by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
When Do Wrongful Death Claims Apply?
A wrongful death claim may be made in the following situations:
- A person was intentionally killed.
- A person’s death resulted from medical malpractice, such as misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose a condition or negligent care.
- A person’s death resulted from a fatal accident, like an automobile crash, caused another’s negligence.
When Can A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Made in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has a two year limit to file a wrongful death lawsuit that begins on the date that the death occurred.
A wrongful death claim can be filed by the personal representative, such as the executor of the state or an attorney, of the parties that meet the qualifications to receive damages.
If a claim has not been filed within six months of the death, any beneficiary legally entitled to recover damages, including the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, may file a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death vs. Survival Action
In the event someone is killed wrongfully due to another’s negligence, two forms of civil litigation may be used:
- Wrongful death action: A lawsuit meant to provide compensation for the losses incurred by the deceased’s dependents.
- Survival action: A legal claim that places a value on the losses the deceased would have sustained had he or she survived the incident. A survival claim can only be made by the executors, administrators or personal representatives of the deceased’s estate.
What Damages Can Be Sought by Surviving Family Members?
The following damages may be recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Burial and funeral costs
- Medical bills
- Hospital expenses
In a survival action, monetary and non-monetary damages may be recovered in addition to those obtained through wrongful death action, including:
- Compensation for the loss of the deceased’s income and financial support
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of the deceased’s parental care and guidance if the claim is filed on behalf of his or her children
How are Settlements Distributed in Wrongful Death Claims?
Pennsylvania courts divide wrongful death lawsuit damages to beneficiaries as follows:
- If the deceased has a surviving spouse and was childless, the spouse receives all damages.
- If the deceased was childless with a surviving spouse and a surviving parent, the spouse is given the first $30,000 of the settlement, as well as half the remaining damages. The remainder is equally divided between the surviving parents.
- If the deceased had a surviving spouse and children, the spouse receives the first $30,000 and half of the remaining damages. If the children are those of the surviving spouse, the remainder is divided equally among the children.
- If the deceased had surviving children but no spouse, the children receive the total settlement, equally divided between them.
- If the parents of the deceased were the only surviving family members, they would receive the entirety of the damages and divide it equally between them.
- If the deceased had no surviving parents, spouse or children, the court will distribute the settlement between the deceased’s siblings, nieces or nephews.
Wrongful Death Attorneys in Pennsylvania
When pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in Pennsylvania, having a qualified attorney with experience and profound knowledge of wrongful death claims is invaluable. Schmidt Kramer’s Harrisburg wrongful death attorneys will work to help families in the event of a loved one’s untimely death.
Schedule a free consultation to discuss if you are entitled compensation for a loved one’s death. We work on a contingency fee basis and will not charge you any legal fees unless we help you receive compensation.