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Montgomery & Bucks County Workers' Compensation Law Blog

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Understanding the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survivor Claims

When a person dies because of someone else’s negligence, such as in a car accident, the decedent’s loved ones can file a claim or lawsuit for their losses. In Pennsylvania, two different actions are available: wrongful death and survival claims. If you find yourself in the situation of wondering which action to take after the negligent death of a loved one, you need information to help you in understanding the difference between wrongful death and survivor claims.

Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death or Survival Action

The immediate family, such as the spouse, children, or parents of the decedent, can file a wrongful death claim when a loved one has died as the result of someone else’s negligence. The personal representative of the estate of your deceased loved one can file a survival claim. Pennsylvania law allows these actions when a wrongful act, unlawful violence, neglect, or negligence causes someone’s death. You must file the claim within two years of the act that caused the death.

The court will distribute the damages recovered in the same proportions as they would distribute any assets of the decedent under intestacy (in other words, as if he left no will, whether he actually did have a will or not).

What Damages Are Available for Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

In addition to the issue of who can bring the lawsuit, wrongful death and survival actions can each recover different types of damages. Wrongful death damages are intended to compensate the family for the loss of their loved one. The economic losses can include:

  • The decedent’s final medical expenses, from the injury that caused her death
  • Costs of the funeral and burial
  • Lost financial support for the family
  • Estate administration costs

The family can also recover damages for the loss of society and companionship, loss of parenting and guidance, and loss of services to the family. If the loved one who died did not work outside the home, the family can still get compensation for their financial loss. The financial loss will not be measured by wages, but rather, by how much it would cost to hire someone to perform the services she did for the family. These services can include such things as child care, housekeeper services, yard work, and transportation.

The purpose of damages in a survival action is to allow the estate to bring claims the decedent would have had when he died. The estate can get damages for lost wages, calculated by deducting his estimated living expenses from the amount of money he would have earned throughout the rest of his lifetime if he had not died. If the death was not immediate, the estate can make a claim for any wages lost from the time of injury until death. The estate can also seek pain-and-suffering damages. Pennsylvania law allows these claims to survive the death of the decedent.

Death claims, whether survival actions or wrongful death claims, are complicated and technical. They often involve the use of expert witnesses. The big insurance companies vigorously defend these cases. To make sure you do not make a mistake that could cost you your claim, call us to schedule a consult with the Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates today.


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