When someone dies in Pennsylvania as the result of an accident, or the intentional act of another, surviving family members are left wondering whether they can bring a lawsuit against the at-fault party. In order to fully understand the process for bringing an action on behalf of a deceased person, one must consult with an attorney who knows Pennsylvania law regarding wrongful death and survival actions.
Explaining Wrongful Death
A wrongful death claim can only be brought by certain members of the deceased person’s family. The law specifies that only those family members closest to the decedent are in a position to claim losses based on the death of their family member. By statute, only spouses, parents or children of someone who dies due to the fault of another is allowed to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. The right to bring a lawsuit for the death of a sibling under the wrongful death statute simply does not exist under Pennsylvania law. That does not mean there is no recourse, it just means the process for claiming damages will not result in the sibling being a direct claimant under a wrongful death claim.
Assuming eligible family members exist, and a wrongful death claim is successful, the amount of money recovered will be divided among the wrongful death beneficiaries. The way the money is divided is predetermined by statute. The law dictates that funds recovered in a wrongful death claim are divided among the beneficiaries in the same manner that the person’s estate would be divided if that person had died without a will. This approach applies even if the person did have a will. The will only dictates what happens with any funds that are awarded on a survival claim as discussed below.
In a wrongful death claim, the amount of damages depends on the nature of the losses experienced by the surviving family members. Damages in a wrongful death claim are not based on how death affected the person that was killed, rather, it focuses on how that person’s death affected his/her family members. Therefore, in a wrongful death claim, family members must prove a loss of income and/or support, medical and funeral expenses, and the loss of the decedent’s companionship, guidance, comfort and other contributions to family life.
Unlike wrongful death claims which address the losses of the decedent’s family members, survival actions address the losses of the individual who died. A survival claim pursues the damages the deceased person claims for his/her own loss of life and pain and suffering experienced in the accident or event that resulted in death. As part of the survival claim, damages are sought for the conscious pain and suffering the decedent experienced in the accident and up until the time of death. The period of time could be as short as a few seconds, or could include months or years depending on the facts of the case.
Pain and suffering can be proven by having family members testify about their own observations of the decedent after the accident. Sometimes, pain and suffering is proven by having witnesses to the accident testify about their observations. In certain circumstances, expert testimony is required to explain medical conditions and the effects of those conditions on the body.
As noted above, unlike wrongful death damages, funds recovered in a survival claim are deposited into the decedent’s estate. Thereafter, the funds are then passed along to the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate as directed in that person’s will. Since those funds become part of the estate, they are subject to estate taxes and may be available to creditors of the estate as well.
Contact a Colmar Wrongful Death Lawyer to Discuss Your Wrongful Death Case in Pennsylvania
If someone you know has been the victim of a fatal accident, encourage their family members to act quickly in seeking experienced counsel to assist them in determining whether they have viable wrongful death or survival claims. We provide free consultations and have our own estate department which enables us to handle all aspects of wrongful death and survival claims within our firm. Call Matt Wilkov at (215) 822-7575 or fill out our online contact form to discuss whether you or your family should be pursuing wrongful death or survival claims on behalf of a deceased family member.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.