Losing A Loved One To Negligence
A wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or organization.
Pennsylvania has a statutory Wrongful Death Act. In Pennsylvania, the legal beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit are limited to the decedent’s surviving spouse, children or parents, all of whose rights are determined by the Pennsylvania Law of Intestacy. The law of intestacy refers to the division of estate proceeds when a person dies without a Will. In other words, if a person dies without a Will, what does Pennsylvania law say about who receives what part of that person’s estate? That determination applies to the division of Wrongful Death proceeds among eligible beneficiaries.
When A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Makes Sense
In order for an attorney to bring a successful wrongful death cause of action in Pennsylvania, the following elements must be present:
- The death of a human being
- Caused by another’s wrongful act, negligent or unlawful violence or negligence
- There is a requirement that there be a surviving family member or members who are either a spouse, children or parents of the deceased who can prove that he or she was receiving some financial benefit from the decedent. If there are no eligible beneficiary(ies), the estate may still recover damages for funeral expenses, related medical expenses and estate administration costs.
The general rule in Pennsylvania in wrongful death cases is that one is entitled to recover both economic and non-economic damages that are suffered as a result of the loss of a loved one. Economic damages in a wrongful death case include an award for the financial contributions that the decedent would have made to his wife, children and/or parents had he or she survived. It also includes the recovery for funeral services in memory of the decedent and for burial costs. Non-economic damages include loss of love, spousal companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace or moral support.
There is a complementary Survival Act statute in Pennsylvania that is prosecuted in the name of the decedent’s estate by the appointed estate representative. Whereas a wrongful death action is pursued on behalf of defined statutory beneficiaries, a Survival Action is brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate and any award or settlement of the Survival Action claim is subject to the debts of the estate. The trial judge provides specific instructions to the jury concerning the elements of recovery under both the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Act.