As we can see, wrongful death claims can involve a wide range of misconduct, from outright homicide to medical malpractice, nursing home neglect to third-party liquor liability.
In many cases, people write wills before they die, describing who should receive their remaining assets and how those assets should be split up. People who fail to draft a will (or draft one improperly), on the other hand, are said to have died “intestate.” As such, their estates come under the rules outlined in each state’s intestacy rules; the assets, to use a more colloquial phrase, go through probate. The state takes over, doling out the decedent’s remaining assets to their surviving spouse, children or parents in line with a strict calculus.
Pennsylvania uses these state-established rules, rather than an individual decedent’s will, to distribute the damages secured in a wrongful death claim. State law accords priority to spouses and children, followed by surviving parents. Here’s how it works, in brief:
A fatal car accident or an accidental death at work is shocking and disorienting, both for close loved ones and family members. Beyond the unavoidable grief that one experiences after a mother, father, husband, wife, son, or daughter dies suddenly, there are urgent questions to be answered. “Why?” “How could this have happened?” “Could something have been done to save my loved one’s life?”
Finding answers to the heartache of an accidental death is a large reason that many families contact our Pennsylvania wrongful death attorneys. Compensation is often an afterthought, but in the long run, financial remuneration can become critical for a family.
These are very real damages, forms of loss that can be compensated financially and may be available in a wrongful death lawsuit. Note, however, that Pennsylvania does not allow damages to be pursued when those losses were already compensated by another source during the decedent’s lifetime. Medical expenses, for example, that were covered by an insurance company before a loved one’s death cannot be claimed again. Nor can two legal actions premised on the same fatal injury or illness be maintained at the same time. All claims arising from the same incident will have to be consolidated before the Court, including any claims filed for wrongful death damages.
It should also be clear that all of these damages are not equal. Some, like loss of household services, are intended to compensate family members for what they have lost due to their loved one’s death. As a result, these damages cannot be claimed unless a spouse, child, or parent survives to receive the benefit of those damages. Other losses, like medical expenses or funeral bills, become the responsibility of the decedent’s estate, whether or not they are survived by a close family member. Where no spouse, child, or parent survives, the estate’s personal representative can still pursue these limited claims.
Beyond the traditional wrongful death claims we’ve already discussed, Pennsylvania is one of the only jurisdictions to recognize that certain claims for damages should “survive” a person’s death. As established in the State’s “survival statute,” all legal causes of action (legitimate reasons to sue), along with all pending legal proceedings, survive the death of the plaintiff. Under Section 8302 of the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, allows those affected by the wrongful death of a family member or loved one to bring a survival action. These types of claims differ from wrongful death actions in that the cause of action is based on the injuries of the other individual, not the fact that he or she died. In such actions, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate acts in place of the decedent. If an injury or negligence claim was brought on behalf of the decedent during his or her lifetime, such proceedings or cause of action survives his or her death. As such, the decedent’s estate may continue (or bring) a claim that the decedent had while still alive. In short, the right to sue over negligence is not extinguished with a person’s death. It survives, passing on to the decedent’s estate. This quirk of Pennsylvania state law allows the estate (on behalf of family members) to pursue a set of damages that aren’t available in some other states. In Pennsylvania, a survival action can be filed to recover damages for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent prior to death.
Like all states, Pennsylvania has established strict time limits that can prevent family members from pursuing accountability after their loved one’s death. This law, known as the “statute of limitations,” provides the decedent’s estate only two years from the date of death to file a claim for wrongful death damages. That is why we recommend working quickly to involve a Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer at our firm – we can get started immediately in seeking justice on behalf of your loved one. Survival actions are also governed by a similar two-year time limit, but the clock starts ticking earlier, on the date of the decedent’s injury. Although some exceptions exist, most wrongful death claims filed in Pennsylvania will be restricted by this two-year statute of limitations. Time is of the essence. An attempt to file a lawsuit after the statute has run its course and your claim will almost certainly be dismissed. It’s always best practice to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as you learn that your loved one’s death may have been caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. We at Marciano & MacAvoy, P.C. are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call and offer our guidance.
An investigation into the facts behind the car accident, slip-and-fall accident, or misdiagnosed cancer may uncover the truth about how the accident occurred. If a person or other legal entity is found to have been negligent, your family may find financial relief by filing a wrongful death claim. In many cases, bereaved family members are also entitled to damages to acknowledge intangible losses such as loss of love and companionship.