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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

The death of a loved one is never easy to accept. If that death could have been prevented, it is even harder to accept. If you recently lost a spouse or family member, and you believe your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another party, you may be entitled to seek damages in a wrongful death claim. No amount of compensation can turn back the clock and prevent the act or omission that caused the death of your loved one; however, a wrongful death lawsuit can help lessen the financial impact of your loss while also holding the party responsible for your loss accountable. An important first step is understanding who can file a wrongful death claim in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What Is a Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania?

Each individual state decides how a wrongful death is defined and who can file a wrongful death lawsuit within that state. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines a wrongful death as a death that is “caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” While there are a virtually endless number of scenarios that could result in a wrongful death, some common examples include:

  • A fatal car accident caused by a drunk driver
  • A death caused by medical negligence
  • An intentional assault that caused fatal injuries to the victim

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by the Personal Representative of the estate of the decedent. If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the person named as the Executor in that Will is the Personal Representative. If the decedent died intestate (without a Will), a loved one may volunteer to be the Personal Representative or the court can appoint someone if no one volunteers.

Although the law requires the Personal Representative to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it is filed on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate. If the Personal Representative fails to file a wrongful death lawsuit within six months after the death of the decedent, any beneficiary may step up and file the lawsuit on behalf of all the beneficiaries.

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The beneficiaries of the estate may be entitled to the following damages from a successful wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Hospital and medical expenses
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Lost wages and benefits, including amounts the deceased reasonably would have been expected to contribute to his or her family’s support if he or she had lived
  • Compensation for the loss of household services, society, and comfort provided by the deceased, including provision of both physical comforts and services and moral guidance, comfort, and support
  • Compensation for pain and suffering

Because damages for loss of comfort, companionship, and guidance are meant to compensate the surviving family members for their losses related to the wrongful death they are only available if the victim left a surviving spouse, children, or parents.

If you recently lost a loved one in what you believe was a wrongful death it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

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