Seeking Compensation in Wrongful Death Claims: Understanding Damages and Recovery

There is nothing more devastating than the sudden loss of a loved one. If the incident that led to their death was preventable, it makes it even harder to accept. Unfortunately, innocent victims are killed every day in many types of incidents, including explosions, falls, car accidents, and workplace incidents. Determining how these incidents occurred is important to holding the appropriate parties responsible.

Following a fatal accident, loved ones often wonder if they have any legal recourse. Fortunately, it is usually possible to pursue a claim for wrongful death if you have lost a family member. Contacting a Philadelphia wrongful death attorney is the best place to start.

The Basics of a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims are filed on behalf of the deceased victim. A Philadelphia wrongful death case is filed by the victim’s “next of kin.” In most cases, this is a close family member such as a spouse, sibling, or child of the victim. If the deceased victim had a will, the named executor will file the wrongful death claim on their behalf.

Once the case has been filed and served on the appropriate parties, the litigation process ensues. This has several stages, including pretrial discovery, filing of motions, taking depositions, engaging in settlement discussions, and then sometimes, proceeding to a trial.

A wrongful death lawsuit has strict deadlines that must be followed. Known as the statue of limitations, if this deadline is not met, victims can lose their legal rights. In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death action must be initiated within two years of the date of death. If claims are not filed within this time period they can be lost forever.

Who is Responsible?

A wrongful death action is typically filed against another individual. In the case of a car accident, the claim would move forward against the other driver who caused they crash. In other cases, the responsible party may be an employer, corporate entity, or place of business. In order to determine legal responsibility, your attorney must take a look at the specific facts of your case and decide who could be held accountable.

Wrongful Death Damages

Family members who file wrongful death claims will request damages in the form of monetary compensation. While it goes without saying that money can never replace the loss of a family member, the compensation that you receive can help to offset the unexpected expenses that you are facing during this time. Some of the damages that can be sought in a wrongful death suit include:

  • Lost wages and loss of income: Family members can bring a claim for lost wages and behalf of their deceased loved one. The untimely death may also give rise to a claim for loss of earning capacity over the decedent’s lifetime. The value of this claim depends upon many factors, including the age of the victim and their employment at the time of their death, along with their reasonable expected earning capacity.
  • Funeral and medical bills: The average funeral costs about $8,000.00. Having this expense thrown at you unexpectedly can cause serious financial hardship during a time of emotional turmoil. In addition, family members may be responsible for medical treatment incurred prior to the decedent’s death.
  • Loss of companionship: The loss of affection and services of your family member has undoubtedly left a major void in your life. The law allows family members to seek compensation for this loss.
  • Punitive damages: In cases where the other party’s conduct was especially reckless or egregious, the plaintiff in a wrongful death action may request punitive damages. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim but rather, to punish the other party for their wrongdoing. While not available in every case, a punitive damage claim is powerful and can result in large damage awards.

Who Recovers Damages?

If damages are awarded as part of a wrongful death claim, it is important to have an understanding as to who will receive them. Even if the victim had a will at the time of their death, the will is not controlling in this area.

Instead, Pennsylvania law generally follows the law of intestate succession. This means that the damages will be distributed as if the decedent did not have a will. Under Pennsylvania’s wrongful death law, recovered damages will go to the following:

  • If the victim was married at the time, the first $30,000 of the recovery will go to their surviving spouse. The remainder of the settlement or award is split evenly among their children.
  • If the victim did not have children, the remaining recovery over $30,000 is split equally between the surviving spouse and surviving parents of the decedent.
  • If there is no surviving spouse, the proceeds are distributed equally among the deceased’s children or to their parents if they had no children.

Survival Actions

Pennsylvania law also authorizes the filing of a survival action. These actions are similar to wrongful death claims, but they are filed by the decedent’s estate, rather than their next of kin. A Pennsylvania survival action can also seek recovery of the same types of damages that are generally available under a wrongful death claim.

Under a survival action, any money recovered belongs to the decedent’s estate. In this case, the money would pass according to the terms of the will if there was one. If there was no will, the intestacy laws would still govern.

Get Help From a Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney

Wrongful death actions in Philadelphia are one of the tools used by victims to seek justice following the tragic loss of a family member. When handled correctly, family members should receive appropriate compensation for their damages.

These claims are complicated and have many deadlines and procedures that must be met in order to ensure the protection of your legal rights. If you have lost a family member due to an incident that was not their fault, you should contact a Philadelphia wrongful death attorney as soon as possible for additional guidance about how to proceed.

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