One of the first questions people have after the untimely death of a loved one is, “Who can bring a wrongful death claim?” Pennsylvania law allows the legal beneficiaries of the deceased person to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If there are no eligible legal beneficiaries, the personal representative of the decedent can bring an action.
The Legal Beneficiaries
The 42 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated (PA CSA) §8301 says that only the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased person can file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for the wrongful death. There is no citizenship requirement. The person who files the claim does not have to be a resident of Pennsylvania.
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What Happens if There Are No Eligible Beneficiaries
When there are no beneficiaries who can qualify to take legal action for the death of the decedent, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a lawsuit seeking to recover compensation for the financial harm to the estate the injury and death caused. These damages are only direct economic losses to restore the estate to its previous financial condition.
For example, the personal representative of the estate can seek recovery of the medical bills from the injury that led to the death and funeral expenses. Also, the estate can seek the administration expenses the injury and death caused.
How Pennsylvania Law Defines Wrongful Death
Wrongful death in Pennsylvania, according to CSA §8301, means that someone died because of someone else’s:
- Wrongful act. For example, when a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, the victim’s family could file a wrongful death action against the drunk driver.
- Neglect. If someone was bedridden and medically fragile, the failure of the home health care service to show up and administer medications as scheduled could lead to the vulnerable person’s death.
- Unlawful violence. A criminal act, like murder or homicide, are two types of unlawful violence covered by our state’s wrongful death statute. Let’s say that an innocent person gets shot in crossfire between two rival street gangs. If the victim dies from the gunshot wounds, the legal beneficiaries could have a wrongful death claim against the shooter or shooters.
- Negligence. When someone dies from someone else’s careless act, like speeding or reckless driving, the close relatives might have a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver. This category does not include intentional wrongful acts.
If the person who died already received compensation for the same losses from the same injury while alive, the legal beneficiaries cannot get a duplicate recovery. When there was a pending lawsuit for the injuries before the decedent died, the court will consolidate the prior action with the wrongful death case to prevent the claimants from “double-dipping.”
Money Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Although the personal representative can only seek out-of-pocket losses and administration costs that diminish the value of the decedent’s estate, the legal beneficiaries can go after those losses and other money damages. This situation does not involve a duplicate recovery because a personal representative only steps in and files a wrongful death claim if there are no eligible legal beneficiaries to do so.
The surviving spouse, children, and parents can sue the party who caused the death of their loved one for the lost financial support of the decedent and intangible things like loss of the companionship of the deceased person. The decedent will no longer be able to bring home a paycheck to support the family, provide love and guidance to the children, or grow old with the surviving spouse.
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How Quickly You Need to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit to Avoid Losing the Right to Compensation
Pennsylvania gives you two years to file a lawsuit for wrongful death, according to 42 PA CSA §5524. Two years can fly by when you suffer a devastating loss like the death of a loved one. It takes some time to investigate the situation and determine who was at fault in the injury and who can bring the wrongful death claim. We then have to prepare all the papers and documents the court requires to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
You will want to reach out to a wrongful death attorney well in advance of the two-year time limit so the lawyer has sufficient time to complete all of these steps. If you miss the deadline, you and your family can lose the right to ever go after compensation from the party who took the life of your close relative.
You do not have to save up money for upfront legal fees to get our help. At Berger and Green, we handle wrongful death cases on a contingent-fee basis. That means you do not pay upfront fees to us. Our fees will come out of the settlement proceeds or award at the end of the matter.
You can call us today at (412) 661-1400 to get started. We offer a free initial consultation with no obligation.