When a person dies as a result of someone’s negligence, there may be a case for wrongful death. In short, a wrongful death occurs when an individual dies due to the negligence or recklessness of a third party. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks only financial compensation for a loved one’s death. A civil court action (rather than a criminal one) determines what type of damages should be awarded to the survivors and how much compensation is fair. In PA, dependents and immediate family members are typically eligible to file Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits.
Grounds for Filing Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Wrongful death in the state of Pennsylvania is covered under Title 42 of the PA General Assembly. According to Section 8301 of Title 42, the goal of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek damages when a person dies as the result of neglect, negligence, unlawful violence, or the wrongful act of another. Wrongful death claims can only be filed if the deceased did not file any actions for damages before his or her death.
In order to successfully argue a wrongful death lawsuit, two things must be proven:
- It must be clearly established that the deceased did not die because of their own inaction but rather as a result of the negligence, wrongful act, or unlawful violence of a third party; and
- It must also be established that the surviving family suffered measurable damages due to the wrongful death.
Note that there is a difference between a wrongful death action and survival action. A wrongful death action focuses on financial damages as a result of a loved one’s death. A survival action, on the other hand, focuses on the suffering and pain of the deceased and works as if the surviving family is filing on behalf of the deceased. An attorney can help you determine which is most appropriate for your situation, and may recommend filing both a wrongful death action and a survival action.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If you are the survivor of someone who died as a result of negligence or recklessness, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Eligible survivors include spouses, minor children, and parents. Whoever files the lawsuit must have been dependent on the deceased for things such as food, clothing, or shelter. The type of damages sought depends on the beneficiaries’ individual relationships to the deceased. For example, minors can file for damages covering the loss of parental guidance as well as the loss of future earnings that would have supported the child.
Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The statute of limitations for Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits is two years from the date of death, and the statute of limitations for a survival action is two years from the date of injury. After two years have passed, you will be barred from filing a wrongful death claim.
Damages for Wrongful Death Claims
There are different types of damages that are available in a wrongful death claim. There are economic damages, which may include:
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Medical expenses related to the injury or illness that lead to death; and
- The loss of potential wages.
In addition, there are non-economic damages that involve intangible items such as loss of affection, loss of training and guidance (this applies to minor children who have lost a parent), and loss of services that would have been provided by the deceased, including things like childcare or housework. If there are multiple beneficiaries to the lawsuit, the damages awarded to each party may be determined by the court.
Proving a Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Claim
They key to a wrongful death claim is negligence: someone was negligent and the result was the injury or illness and subsequent death of your loved one. One of the ways negligence is defined is by comparing the faulty party’s actions to those of a reasonable person in the same situation.
Careful attention will be paid to the circumstances that led to death to determine if negligence was involved and whether that negligence was directly connected to your loved one’s death.
Main Causes of Wrongful Death
For people younger than 35, most wrongful deaths involve car accidents. The next most common cause of wrongful death, especially in the case of senior citizens, is medical malpractice.
Other causes include falls, drowning, workplace and industrial accidents, and manufacturing defects. These are only the most common types of wrongful deaths. Anytime negligence results in someone dying, it may be a cause of wrongful death.
Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Lawyers
Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits require the skill and expertise of a reliable attorney to navigate not only the laws involved but the many complex issues involved. It is important to seek legal help well before the statute of limitations expires. The sooner you contact a wrongful death attorney about a potential claim, the easier the process will be for you and any other beneficiaries.
If you believe that your loved one died because of the negligence or recklessness of someone else, contact the offices of Donaghue & Labrum today. We have been handling Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits in the Philadelphia area for decades and are committed to fighting for what our clients rightfully deserve. Remember, if your loved one was the victim of a wrongful death, you may be entitled to compensation for funeral and burial costs, pain and suffering, and medical expenses. Call us today for a free consultation – we will not stop until you’ve been compensated for your devastating loss.