Under the State of Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act, if someone dies because of another person’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct, the victim’s loved ones may be entitled to monetary compensation. Under the Act, the decedent’s loved ones can file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for the economic losses they suffered as a result of their loss. Usually, this means that they may recover the lost wages the person would have earned had they survived. Other types of damages may also be available in some cases, such as damages for emotional and psychological distress.
A wrongful death action can be described as a personal injury lawsuit that is filed when the injured party cannot file it on their own because they have passed away.
Pennsylvania law defines wrongful death as one “caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” This law further allows for recovery of damages resulting from such acts, so long as the person who died did not recover such damages during their lifetime, such as through a filing of a personal injury claim. If a person files a lawsuit on their own behalf while critically injured, and then passes away as a result of those injuries, the court will likely permit the cases to be consolidated and proceed as a wrongful death action even after the victim has passed on.
A wrongful death action must be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. However, only certain individuals specified by law are entitled to receive the proceeds from such a lawsuit, if any are awarded. These individuals are not always the same as the personal representative.
In general, beneficiaries eligible to recover compensation for wrongful death include:
Damage awards recovered through a wrongful death suit must be distributed in the proportion that they would if the person had died intestate (without a will). In Pennsylvania, if a person dies without a will, state law prescribes how their assets must be distributed (typically, in order of the closest living relation to the most distant). This remains true of wrongful death distributions, even if the person died with a will. Creditors of the decedent cannot claim a right to the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit.
If a personal representative fails to file a wrongful death action within six months of the person’s death, then any person entitled to recover damages as a beneficiary (spouse, child, parent of decedent) may file the suit on their loved one’s behalf for:
An array of damages are available to beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
Proceeds recovered by the beneficiaries are not subject to the Pennsylvania inheritance tax, or the federal estate tax, and are not subject to collection by creditors. They are also not subject to the probate process.
Those who have lost a loved one as a result of a crime, malpractice, or negligence have two years to file a wrongful death suit following the death. Suits filed after two years are generally barred by the court. For this and many other reasons, family members who have suffered the death of a loved one due to violence or a preventable accident are strongly advised to seek the assistance of a qualified personal injury lawyer with experience handling wrongful death claims.
If you suspect that you may be entitled to compensation for wrongful death, call an experienced Delaware County wrongful death lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. today at 610-565-3700 or contact us online. From our Media and West Chester offices, we provide free, no-obligation consultations to clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including those in Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County and the surrounding communities of Ambler, Glenside, Norristown, Pottstown, Springfield and West Chester.