WRONGFUL DEATH/SURVIVAL SUIT
Wrongful Death/Survival Suit Lawyers Serving Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh wrongful death/survival action Attorneys
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The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act governs two types of claims that may be brought under Pennsylvania law when someone passes away due to the negligence of another individual: Wrongful Death and Survival Actions.
The Wrongful Death Actions statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8301, provides that an action may be brought to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another if no claims were obtained by the injured individual during his or her lifetime. This means any prior actions for the same injuries, such as a lawsuit, will be consolidated with the wrongful death claim to ensure there is not a duplicative recovery. Additionally, wrongful death actions may be filed following the filing of a criminal case based on the circumstances of the death.
A survival action, 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8302, is when the decedent’s estate stands in the shoes of the person who has passed away and may still be a valid claim brought by the personal representative for the decedent’s estate regardless of if a wrongful death action is brought or not. The personal representative for the estate may bring the same claims that the decedent could have brought if they had not passed.
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What Types of Damages are Recoverable?
There are distinct types of damages that are deemed recoverable under a wrongful death claim. These damages include economic loss to the descendant’s family as well as the loss of services, society, and comfort that the descendant would have provided or contributed had he or she lived. Pennsylvania case law has extended wrongful death damages to include the emotional and psychological loss that a family suffers as a result of the individual’s passing.
In Rettger v. UPMC Shadyside, 991 A.2d 915 (Pa.Super. 2010), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the term “services” was extended to mean the “profound emotional and psychological loss suffered” upon the death of the individual. This is helpful in the instance of a parent bringing a wrongful death action on behalf of their deceased minor where there may be a smaller loss of compensable services.
Differing from a wrongful death action, the decedent’s estate is the beneficiary of any damages recovered. Damages that are recoverable under a survival action may include a decedent’s pain and suffering, medical bills, and past and future wage loss. Any money recovered under a survival action must pass through the estate through the probate process. In the case there is no will, the funds would pass through intestacy law. Further, any proceeds are subject to taxes and can also be used to satisfy any outstanding claim of estate creditors, unlike a wrongful death action.
The Pennsylvania Intestacy Law
The Pennsylvania Intestacy Law determines the allocation of the damage proceeds recovered on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries. The law provides as follows:
- If there is a surviving spouse, then the first $30,000 of the recovery goes to the spouse and the remainder is split evenly between the spouse and the children.
- If there are no children, then the remainder is split evenly between the spouse and the surviving parents.
- If there is no surviving spouse, then the proceeds are split evenly between the surviving children and if no children, then to the surviving parents.
Who Can Be a Wrongful Death Beneficiary?
Wrongful death proceeds are paid directly to the beneficiaries and are not subject to taxes or the decedent’s estate creditors. Individuals who qualify as beneficiaries under a wrongful death claim are as follows:
- Children of the decedent
- Parents of the decedent
- Spouses of the decedent
Additionally, these individuals must prove a pecuniary loss in order to receive wrongful death proceeds. If there are no qualifying wrongful death beneficiaries as per the statue, then a wrongful death claim cannot be brought on behalf of the deceased individual.
What if a Claim Involves Both a Wrongful Death Action and Survival Action?
If a claim involves both a wrongful death and survival action and resolves short of a verdict reached at trial, court approval is generally required to approve the allocation of damages between the two actions. The rationale for requiring court approval is to protect the interest of both the beneficiaries and the state of Pennsylvania in making sure that proper taxes are paid upon the resolution of a claim.
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