Legal Guide

Understanding Wrongful Death Laws in Pennsylvania: Your Guide to Seeking Justice

Philadelphia is well-known as the "City of Brotherly Love." Its founder, William Penn, envisioned it as the epicenter of love, friendship, and goodwill. In many ways, this historic community reflects those qualities. On the other hand, tragedy exists here as well. One unspeakable event is when a loved one suffers a preventable death. You have the right to seek justice if you're a surviving family member. Philadelphia wrongful death lawyers specialize in filing suits for grieving families who want to hold the negligent party accountable.

These skilled legal professionals can offer emotional support, a listening ear, and compassionate, fierce advocacy. Additionally, they are well-versed in the laws impacting wrongful death claims cases in Pennsylvania. Continue reading to understand what you can expect on your path to justice.

The Legal Definition of Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania

A wrongful death occurs as the result of someone's negligent, reckless, or intentional actions. For example, thousands of motor vehicle accidents occur annually on Pennsylvania roadways. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were 1,129 fatal crashes in 2022. It's safe to say some of these individuals met an untimely death because of another party's misconduct. When this happens, it is considered a wrongful death in the eyes of the law.

Some leading causes of wrongful death claims include:

  • Unlawful violence
  • Workplace accidents
  • Medical negligence
  • Construction accidents
  • Car Accidents

The Difference Between a Personal Injury Case and a Wrongful Death Claim

The primary difference between the two legal actions is who files the lawsuit. For example, in a personal injury claim, the injured victim is the one who seeks compensation. In a wrongful death action, the family of the deceased or the person in charge of the deceased person’s estate files a claim. Also, in a wrongful death claim, you can sometimes get compensated for things like funeral and burial expenses in addition to medical bills and lost wages.

Eligible Parties Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Pennsylvania follows state law regarding who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, the law places priority on who can file. These are the eligible family members:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Children of the deceased
  • Parents of the deceased

In the eyes of the law, the pursuit of lawsuits begins with the deceased person's spouse. If there is no spouse, the children are next in line. The parents can file a wrongful death claim if the deceased person's estate has no children and no spouse.

What happens when a minor child under age 18 loses both parents? In this special circumstance, the court will appoint a legal guardian to file the claim on the child's behalf. Consider consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney to ensure you take the proper legal steps.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Pennsylvania

The state limits the time span for when surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim. The time frame starts on the day of the wrongful death. At that point, you have up to two years to file the claim. For instance, if a Pennsylvania family lost their loved one on July 28, 2022, due to medical malpractice, they have until July 28, 2024, to submit a wrongful death claim. There are sometimes special circumstances that can make the statute of limitations different for your particular case, so make sure to always check with your Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer.

What You Need to Prove Wrongful Death

The criteria for proving a wrongful consists of four elements. A wrongful death attorney representing the family of the deceased knows how to satisfy these conditions. Their legal knowledge gives the surviving members the best chances for a successful claim. Here are the elements:

The Defendant's Duty of Care: A Philadelphia wrongful death attorney must show the defendant had a legal and ethical duty to ensure the defendant's safety and well-being. For example, physicians have a duty to provide their patients with skilled, competent care.

The Defendants Breach of Duty: Next, it must be shown the descendent violated their duty of care. As a result, the defendant was placed in harm's way. For example, a surgeon damages a patient's organs during surgery leading to severe physical complications.

The Defendant's Causation: A wrongful death lawyer must draw a clear link between the defendant's actions and the victim's death. For example, the deceased passed away due to the fact the surgeon damaged their organs.

Damages: This element refers to the monetary compensation surviving members can receive for their loved one's death.

The Pennsylvania wrongful death act gives surviving relatives the right to seek financial damages. If a Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer can prove these elements above, the victim's family may receive damages. This compensation covers costs such as funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and lost wages.

Damages and Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases

The death of a loved one due to another party's wrongful act has a devastating emotional impact on the family members. There's a firestorm of feelings ranging from sadness and grief to disbelief and anger.

Additionally, financial hardships add to the emotional distress. Even though it's impossible to place a price on a loved one's life, the family of the deceased has the right to compensation. Here are the damages available in a wrongful death case:

Economic damages quantify the monetary impact of your loss. This financial support covers the following:

  • Medical costs
  • Funeral costs
  • Future income

Non-economic refers to the intangible losses that deeply impact the remaining family. These include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of emotional support and companionship

In rare cases of fatal injuries, courts may award punitive damages. These wrongful death damages punish the negligent party whose actions were egregious or intentional. The court also seeks to discourage others from behaving in a similar fashion.

Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys work to hold an at-fault party accountable for their negligence. A function of their legal duties includes seeking fair compensation to support the family of the deceased.

The Role of an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer

A lawyer provides valuable guidance in the aftermath of a family member's death. The pursuit of a wrongful death settlement involves navigating the complex world of Pennsylvania law. With the proper legal representation, you can receive the guidance, clarity, and direction you need to recover maximum damages. In most cases, a law firm will offer a free wrongful death consultation. This free consultation helps you choose the right attorney without additional financial pressure.

The Importance of Pursuing Justice After Loss

Legal proceedings can feel unbearable in the midst of dealing with grief and loss. However, pursuing justice is not just about financial compensation. Filing a civil lawsuit is a vital part of the healing process. Pennsylvania wrongful death attorneys will advocate for you and your deceased loved one to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

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