Wrongful Death Explained
Wrongful Death and Survival Action – Which is Right for Your Family After the Loss of a Loved One?
When you lose a loved one, it can be difficult to think beyond the immediate—why was that person taken from you, and what will your life look like without him or her? When the person you lost was killed as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional actions, it can be even harder to process.
But families who have lost loved ones due to another person’s fault must understand their options for taking legal action against the responsible parties, under Pennsylvania’s wrongful death or survival action laws. Both survival action and wrongful death are types of civil litigation recognized under Pennsylvania’s laws, and these laws govern who can take legal action, how these family members should proceed, and what damages they can seek.
A wrongful death claim is made by the people who are most impacted by the death of the victim, and Pennsylvania law allows only the spouse, parents, or children of the person who has died to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In the unlikely event that there the decedent does not have a spouse, parent, or child to file, the personal representative who is handling the decedent’s estate is allowed to file the lawsuit.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family seeks restitution for the losses that they have suffered as a result of their loved one’s death. These losses can be financial, such as loss of income or financial support, particularly if the deceased was a primary breadwinner, expenses for medical care, and funeral costs, as well as personal—loss of companionship, comfort, love, consortium, and other relationship roles the deceased fulfilled.
The financial values sought in these cases can usually be calculated, but the personal losses are much harder to quantify. The juries who hear these cases are instructed to come up with a value that they believe fairly covers the relationships held by the victim and the survivors, and that meets the circumstances of the victim’s death.
No matter what the deceased’s will stipulates, any proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit will be distributed equally among the family members, following the rules of interstate succession.
Unlike wrongful death lawsuits, survival action lawsuits are aimed at getting restitution for the injuries the victim would have been able to claim, and the damages he would have been able to seek, if he were still alive. These cases usually focus on the pain and suffering that the victim would have endured during the accident, and in the moments before his death. While in some cases this timeframe is short—a matter of minutes in a car accident, for example, other cases could involve weeks or even years of suffering.
Survival action claims often rely on the testimony of witnesses at the scene of the accident and expert witnesses who can speak to medical and emotional trauma. In Pennsylvania, these claims can only be filed by the decedent’s personal representative, and damages awarded in a survival action case go to the estate.
Speak With an Attorney
This overview should help you and your family understand how Pennsylvania law differentiates between these two types of claims, but in your time of grief, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine the best course of action and will advise you on how to handle the circumstances of your particular case.
March 30, 2017 Categories: Civil