Accidents happen every minute of every day due to reckless drivers, unsafe gun care, medical malpractice, and many other acts of irresponsibility. When a loved one has been lost in a tragedy, the effects can have a devastating impact on the family members surviving the departed. In addition to grief, families can be forced to deal with economic problems, insurance companies and numerous problems and obstacles that were not foreseen. Unfortunately, the law of Pennsylvania relating to a death caused by the carelessness of another is equally confusing. As a result, many families turn to legal counsel for advice and assistance. At Rosen Louik & Perry, a Pittsburgh Law Firm, we have been helping families understand the legal and financial options available, and obtain compensation from those accountable.
Although a death may be unintentional, it is still the responsibility of the defendant to provide proper and adequate compensation for the decedent as well as the family survivors. In Pennsylvania, family members of the departed and/or a personal representative can file claims against those responsible up to 2 years after the death. Many people belief that the term “wrongful death” is a special legal cause of action different and distinct from a general negligence, or carelessness, claim. In fact, it is not. Under Pennsylvania law, when a person’s life ends as the result of the carelessness of another two legal causes of action are created: a wrongful death claim and a survival claim. These claims are brought in one lawsuit. The purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to compensate certain enumerated relatives of a deceased for the pecuniary loss suffered by the relatives as a result of the deprivation of the part of the earnings of the deceased and certain other pecuniary benefits that the relatives would have received from the deceased if he lived. The Wrongful Death Act provides that the right of action shall exist only for the spouse, children or parents of the deceased. In order to recover under the Wrongful Death Act the beneficiary must not only have the requisite family relationship to the deceased, but must show that by reason of the wrongful death he suffered the loss of a reasonable expectation of pecuniary advantage. In a wrongful death action, the recovery is for the damages suffered by the decedent’s beneficiaries and not for the injuries to the decedent. Therefore, damages under the Wrongful Death Act are determined from the standpoint of the beneficiaries rather than from that of the decedent, and recovery cannot be obtained for injuries suffered solely by the decedent such as the decedent’s pain and suffering. In addition to damages based on the portion of the decedent’s earning that would have gone for their benefit, the beneficiaries in a wrongful death action may also recover for certain other types of lost benefits, such as a spouse’s loss of the decedent’s services, society and companionship, a parent’s loss of the services of a child, and a minor child’s loss of the guidance and nurture of a deceased parent.
At common law a right of action for personal injuries, regardless of whether suit had been commenced before death, did not survive the death of either the injured person or the wrongdoer. This situation was remedied by the enactment of a series of statutes, commonly known as the Survival Act. A survival action is, in effect, the personal injury action that could have been brought by the decedent if he had lived, now brought by the decedent’s personal representative. As such, this is where pre-death pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life’s pleasures and other claims personal to the decedent are to be compensated. A survival claim is not a new cause of action, but merely a continuation in the decedent’s personal representative of the right of action that accrued to the decedent under the common law because of the tort. The damages recovered in a survival action are subject to estate and inheritance taxes and to the claims of creditors. The damages in a survival action are distributed according to the decedent’s will if he died testate or according to the intestate laws if he died intestate. By contrast, a wrongful death action belongs to the designated beneficiaries. The action does not belong to the estate. Damages are not subject to estate or inheritance taxes or to the claims of creditors and are distributed according to the intestate laws regardless of whether there is a will.
When malicious, grossly negligent, or intentional acts are involved in a wrongful death case, punitive damages may be awarded to the family of the victim as a punishment to the offending party as a means to dissuade similar acts from occurring in the future. These damages are imposed in addition to compensatory damages. Juries have the power to assess punitive damages at whatever amount they deem appropriate for the most part. However, a judge may overrule or decrease the punitive damage compensation if they believe it to be excessive or improper.
Unfortunately, certain state legislatures have placed limits on the amount of money that juries are permitted to award families who have lost a loved one as the result of the carelessness of another. Limits on compensation for wrongful death suits vary state by state. In most states, employees have forfeited their right to bring private lawsuits for money damages in exchange for guaranteed medical and reduced wages payments under a workers’ compensation system.
Monetary compensation can never cure the anguish, distress and pain caused by the loss of a family member or loved one. Monetary verdicts and settlements can help lessen the burden of financial difficulties left by the loss of a family member and guarantee that the family is cared for in the absence of the victim.
Speaking with an attorney can provide invaluable support and assistance when dealing with a suspected wrongful death. Rosen Louik and Perry has won hundreds of wrongful death cases thereby providing families with proper compensation for the loss of loved ones. Families are entitled to know if their loved one’s death was caused by another’s careless act. Call for a free consultation, 412-281-4200.