This page will explain Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits. We will explain how the Pennsylvania wrongful death statute works and who is eligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and get settlement compensation. We also explain the second cause of action in death cases, a survival action which provides a second path of compensation for the victim’s family
Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Law
Like all states, Pennsylvania has statutory laws that govern wrongful death claims. Wrongful death and survivor claims are civil actions that are filed when one party’s negligence, misconduct, or criminal action results in the death of another. Understanding Pennsylvania’s wrongful death laws can help survivors make informed decisions when seeking justice.
Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Statute
Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuits are governed by 42 Pa. Stat. § 8301 which allows certain family members to bring a civil lawsuit “to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” A wrongful death claim can originate from various types of incidents involving negligence, such as medical malpractice, auto accidents, or a defective product. Wrongful death claims can also be based on intentional conduct such as murder.
The purpose of the Pennsylvania wrongful death statute is to give surviving family members an opportunity to get financial compensation for the death of their loved one. It also seeks to deter negligent or intentional conduct resulting in death.
Who is Eligible to Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?
Under the Pennsylvania rules, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate has initial standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. However, if the personal representative of the estate does not file a case within 6 months of death, any of the decedent’s immediate family members are eligible to bring a lawsuit. Pa. R. Civ. Pro. 2022. The immediate family of the decedent is strictly defined as the “spouse, children, or parents of the deceased.” This is a very narrow group of people that have standing to file wrongful death claims in Pennsylvania.
Anyone who is not the legal spouse, parent, or child of the decedent has no standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If someone other than one of these immediate family members attempts to bring a wrongful death case it will be dismissed by the court.
Who Gets the Settlement Money in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
If the family members of a decedent bring a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the Pennsylvania wrongful death statute requires that all settlement compensation or money damages awarded in the case must be distributed based on Pennsylvania’s rules for estate distributions:
The damages recovered shall be distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion they would take the personal estate of the decedent in the case of intestacy and without liability to creditors of the deceased person under the statutes of this Commonwealth.
Damages Available in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Cases
In Pennsylvania wrongful death cases, damages can be awarded to the plaintiff(s) to compensate for a variety of losses, including:
- funeral expenses
- medical expenses incurred before death (caused by the negligence)
- estate administration expenses
- lost income and benefits, including amounts the deceased reasonably would have been expected to earn had he or she lived, and
- loss of the deceased’s services and companionship
Under Pennsylvania law, damages are intended to compensate the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and/or parents for their losses related to the death.
Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Cases
Pennsylvania has a “statute of limitations” law that sets a legal deadline for how long plaintiffs can wait before filing wrongful death lawsuits. In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within 2-years of the date of death. If the case is not filed within that two-year time period, it will be legally barred. (Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 5524 (2021).)
Pennsylvania Survival Actions
In addition to bringing a claim for wrongful death, the personal representative of a decedent’s estate in Pennsylvania is also able to bring something called a survival action lawsuit. Survival actions in Pennsylvania are governed by 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301. This statute essentially gives the decedent’s estate the ability to stand in the shoes of the decedent and bring legal claims on their behalf.
The personal representative for the estate is able to bring the same claims that the decedent could have brought if they were still alive. Damages recoverable under a survival action may include things like the decedent’s pain and suffering, medical bills, and past and future wage loss.
Survival Actions Vs. Wrongful Death Claims
Both survival actions and wrongful death claims are tort claims for compensation for the surviving family. But they serve different purposes and compensate for different types of damages. A wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania seeks to compensate for the full value of the life of the deceased, measuring it from the decedent’s perspective. It is for the survivors’ loss. It includes lost wages, loss of companionship, and all of the awfulness that comes with losing a loved one.
In contrast, a survival action compensates for the suffering endured by the decedent from the time of injury until their death. It is the claim that might have had if they lived. A survival action in Pennsylvania seeks damages for medical expenses, funeral costs, and the conscious pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before they died.
Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Verdicts & Settlements
$350,000 Settlement (2023 Montgomery County): This wrongful death and survival action was brought after a 68-year-old woman died after undergoing routine right hip replacement surgery. The plaintiff contended that the defendants failed to diagnose and treat a postoperative bacterial infection despite the decedent displaying obvious symptoms at multiple post-op visits. The parties agreed to a settlement with 75% of the proceeds allocated to the wrongful death claim and 25% allocated to the survival action.
$175,000 Settlement (2022 Cumberland County): Wrongful death and survival action brought based on the death of an 81-year-old woman from lung cancer. The lawsuit alleged that defendant healthcare providers negligently failed to diagnose her cancer earlier when it was still treatable. The low settlement amount here is partly due to the fact that the decedent was 81.
$150,000 Settlement (2022 Bucks County): A 60-year-old woman died from sepsis while she was a patient at defendant Manor Care Health Services Oxford Valley for physical therapy and rehabilitation after undergoing abdominal hernia surgery. Lawsuit alleged that the sepsis was caused by the negligent medical care at the facility.
$160,000 Settlement (2022 York County): wrongful death and survival action was brought after a 71-year-old woman suffered fatal injuries when her westbound vehicle, stopped at the end of an on-ramp and waiting for traffic to clear so she could merge, was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by the defendant.
Hire a PennsylvaniaWrongful Death Lawyer
Call 800-553-8082 if you are looking to maximize the jury payout or settlement amount of your wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania.