The profound grief of losing a family member is deepened when their death results from someone else's negligence or reckless behavior. This may spark a desire in you to seek justice for your loved one, aiming to hold the responsible parties accountable and prevent similar tragedies. Figuring out how to sustain yourself and other survivors, or compensating for the financial impact and expenses incurred from your loved one's passing, can be very challenging.

In Pennsylvania, there are primarily two kinds of legal actions that can be initiated when a death is caused by negligence: wrongful death and survival actions, both regulated by the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act. This article will clarify the distinct characteristics of each type of claim and provide insight for those contemplating such legal actions. For questions or assistance, the PA wrongful death lawyers at Brandon J. Broderick are ready to offer their support.

How Does a Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Action Work?

Wrongful death claims are regulated under 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8301, which stipulates that damages can be sought for the death of a person caused by someone else's wrongful behavior or negligence, provided the deceased did not pursue claims for the same injuries while alive. If there were previous lawsuits for injuries that later resulted in death, these would be merged with the wrongful death lawsuit to prevent double compensation. For instance, if an individual files a lawsuit for injuries due to negligence and then dies from those injuries before the case resolves, the lawsuits will be combined. Wrongful death lawsuits are permissible even if a criminal case regarding the death has already been initiated.

What Are the Damages That Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Action in Pennsylvania?

A wrongful death claim seeks to provide financial redress for both 'economic' losses, such as medical expenses incurred from the accident and funeral costs, and 'non-economic' losses, which cover the immeasurable impact like the loss of parental guidance following the death of a parent. Although no monetary value can truly compensate for the death of a spouse or family member, their sudden departure can impose significant economic strain. In Pennsylvania, compensation from a wrongful death suit can cover:

  • Medical and hospital bills from the accident
  • Costs of funeral and burial
  • Lost wages and the potential earnings the deceased would have contributed over their lifetime
  • Lost health and insurance benefits
  • Emotional losses, including the loss of companionship, consortium, and parental guidance

For families where the deceased was a non-working spouse or the main caregiver, the claim may also seek remuneration for the indispensable household contributions they provided, such as cleaning, caring for children, and other domestic tasks. Beneficiaries receive wrongful death settlements directly, and these funds are exempt from taxation and claims by creditors of the deceased's estate.

Who Can Be a Wrongful Death Beneficiary?

It's often overlooked that in a wrongful death claim, only the deceased's spouse, children, and parents qualify as beneficiaries, provided they can demonstrate financial loss. This excludes siblings, grandparents, and, in most instances, long-term partners, from claiming beneficiary status, regardless of their financial dependence on the deceased at the time of their passing. If no eligible beneficiaries exist according to the statute, a wrongful death claim cannot proceed in the name of the deceased. For instance, in cases where the deceased leaves behind no spouse, children, or parents, a wrongful death lawsuit is not permissible in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's intestacy laws serve as a guide for the distribution of damages awarded to wrongful death beneficiaries and typically specify the following:

  • A surviving spouse receives the first $30,000 of the settlement, with the balance divided equally between the spouse and any children

  • If there are no children, the remainder is equally shared between the spouse and the deceased's parents

  • In the absence of a surviving spouse, the settlement is divided equally among the deceased's children, or if there are no children, it goes to the surviving parents

How Does a Pennsylvania Survival Action Work, and Where Does the Money Go?

Even if a wrongful death claim is not applicable, the estate's personal representative can still pursue a survival action. Governed by 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8301, a survival action allows the decedent’s estate to essentially step into the shoes of the deceased, enabling the personal representative to file any claims the decedent would have been entitled to if they had lived. Recoverable damages in a survival action can encompass the decedent's pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages, both past and future.

In a survival action scenario, any damages awarded benefit the decedent’s estate directly. Consequently, the recovered funds are processed through the estate via probate. Should the decedent have died without a will, these funds are distributed according to intestacy laws. If there is a will, the distribution follows the will's stipulations. Proceeds from survival actions are taxable, unlike wrongful death claims, and estate creditors can use them to pay off any debts.

When settling claims that combine wrongful death and survival actions outside of trial, court endorsement is usually required to confirm the division of damages between both claims. This ensures that the interests of the beneficiaries and the state of Pennsylvania are safeguarded, particularly in regards to the appropriate tax payments on the settlement. Engaging a proficient attorney is advisable to navigate the complexities of wrongful death and survival action claims effectively.

What Is the Deadline To File a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you have a two-year period from the death date to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. However, exceptions exist, particularly if the lawsuit involves a government body, where the filing period might be as brief as six months following the death. Ensuring adherence to this two-year limit is crucial, as any claim filed beyond this timeframe could be summarily rejected. Engaging with a wrongful death attorney in Pennsylvania promptly is advisable. Over time, witnesses' memories may dim, and physical evidence could vanish, making it essential to begin the compensation pursuit process well before formally filing the lawsuit. This step is vital to preserving your legal right to seek a claim.

How Long Does It Take in Pennsylvania To Settle a Wrongful Death Case?

When the responsibility for a wrongful death is straightforward, claims can sometimes be resolved within just a few months. However, in situations where establishing negligence is more complex or the potential compensation amount is significant, resolving a wrongful death lawsuit might extend over a year. The prospect of a lengthy process should not deter you from pursuing the justice and appropriate compensation you deserve for your loss.

Peace of Mind for You, Justice for Your Loved One, Attorney at Law Brandon J. Broderick Is Here To Help

Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, stands out for our unwavering dedication to our clients. Our blend of compassionate service and a direct, transparent approach has established us as one of the best law firms in Pennsylvania. Our commitment is to fight for your interests, allowing you to concentrate on healing and, what matters most, your family.

Our team of attorneys has guided countless individuals through their darkest hours following tragic incidents caused by the negligence of others. Operating on a contingency basis, our wrongful death attorneys ensure you face no upfront costs; we are compensated only if we win your case. Many clients report feeling an immediate sense of relief after reaching out to us. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

Our presence spans across Pennsylvania, with locations in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Leola, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Reading.

Posted by: Brandon J. Bro…
Date: Tue, 03/12/2024 - 03:29

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