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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Posted March 24, 2016 | Personal Injury

A wrongful death in Pennsylvania is defined as an avoidable death caused by the negligence, recklessness, or unlawful actions of an individual or business.  If you lost a loved one to another person’s careless acts, you may be able to file a lawsuit on his or her behalf, depending on factors like your relationship to the decedent and the date of the victim’s death.  When considering litigation, it is also important for surviving family members to understand the difference between wrongful death actions and survival actions.  

When Can Surviving Spouses, Children, or Parents Sue for Accidental Death in PA?

It is never easy to cope with the untimely loss of a loved one, especially when their death was caused by a preventable mistake.  While filing a lawsuit cannot undo what has already occurred, many people find that taking legal action helps to give them a sense of closure through pursuing justice for the wrongs that were committed.  Ultimately, it is a highly personal decision that only you and your loved ones can make.  If you do decide to seek compensation, you should be aware of the following information.

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First, you should know who has the legal authority to bring a wrongful death action in the state of Pennsylvania.  This issue is addressed by 231 Pa. Code Rule 2202, which states that, under most circumstances, only the decedent’s personal representative may file a lawsuit.

However, the law also makes an exception for situations where no action has been brought within six months of the decedent’s death, in which case “any person entitled by law to recover damages” – meaning any beneficiary who is entitled to recover compensation, which includes the decedent’s parents, children, and/or spouse – may bring an action on behalf of the decedent’s other beneficiaries.  Only one action can be pending (in progress) at any given time, which means multiple beneficiaries cannot simultaneously file separate lawsuits over the same person’s death.

It’s also very important to know when the action must be brought.  Pennsylvania’s “statute of limitations” – in other words, the deadline for filing a claim or lawsuit – is two years for wrongful death, beginning from the date of death.  This deadline is established by 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2).

What’s the Difference Between Wrongful Death and a Survival Action?

When a person is wrongfully killed by the negligent actions of another party, there are two types of civil litigation which can arise: a wrongful death action, which primarily deals with losses sustained by the surviving family members, and a survival action, which focuses more on the losses the decedent would have personally sustained had he or she survived the accident.

42 Pa. C.S. § 8302 provides that “all causes of action or proceedings… shall survive the death of the plaintiff or of the defendant,” which means the case can continue onward even if the defendant or surviving family members pass away while litigation is ongoing.  Unlike a wrongful death action, which may be brought by immediate family members under certain circumstances, survival actions can only be commenced by personal representatives, administrators, or executors of the decedent’s estate.

Like a wrongful death action, a survival action must be brought within two years of the decedent’s death.

What Damages Are Available to Surviving Family Members?

Under 42 Pa. C.S. § 8301(c), damages recoverable in a wrongful death action include reasonable costs related to:

  • Burial expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Inpatient hospital care
  • Medical bills and medical care
  • Nursing

Surviving beneficiaries can also recover for other pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses caused by the death of the decedent, including:

  • Loss of the decedent’s income, wages, or other financial support
  • Loss of companionship and the marital relationship (“loss of consortium”)
  • Loss of guidance and parental care for the surviving children

Compensation for objective, strictly financial losses is called “economic damages,” while compensation for subjective physical and emotional hardships is called “non-economic damages.”  While it is impossible to assign objective worth to subjective hardships, like the emotional devastation of losing a parental or spousal relationship, juries are instructed to consider all circumstances of the case when attempting to calculate an appropriate figure.

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Because survival actions deal with losses to the decedent had he or she had survived, the recoverable damages are somewhat different.  For instance, the jury will consider factors like the decedent’s own pain and suffering prior to death.  Damages in a survival action are awarded to the estate of the decedent.

If You Are In Need of a Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney, Look to Brent Wieand

If you decide that you wish to pursue a wrongful death or survival action on behalf of a lost loved one, know you can turn to the Wieand Law Firm, LLC for support.  Call Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206 to set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation.

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes.  It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.***