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Elements of Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

In Pennsylvania, wrongful death claims arise when an individual’s death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, or breach of contract or warranty of another person or entity. These claims allow the deceased person’s beneficiaries or estate to file a lawsuit against those responsible for the death.

Key elements of a wrongful death claim include proving that the death was caused, in whole or in part, by the conduct of the defendant, that the defendant was negligent or strictly liable for the deceased’s death, and that there are surviving beneficiaries or dependents. Additionally, the lawsuit must establish that monetary damages have resulted from the death, covering everything from medical and funeral expenses to loss of income and companionship. If you have a family member who has died as the result of someone’s negligence, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney at PhillyLaw for a free consultation to find out whether you can file a wrongful death suit under Pennsylvania law to recover compensation for your loss.

Elements of a Successful Wrongful Death Claim

In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death claim arises when an individual dies due to the wrongful act, negligence, or fault of another. The elements that must be established for a successful wrongful death claim include:


There must be a death of a human being.


The death must result from the negligence or intent to harm by another individual, company, or entity.

Surviving Beneficiaries

There must be surviving beneficiaries or dependents who suffer financial harm due to the death.

Appointment of a Personal Representative

A personal representative for the estate of the deceased person must be appointed to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the estate and the surviving family members.

Establishing these elements requires thorough investigation and compilation of evidence, which often involves legal expertise in wrongful death cases. The experienced wrongful death attorneys at PhillyLaw can help you determine whether it is the right time to file a wrongful death action to seek financial compensation for your loss.

Proving Negligence in a Successful Wrongful Death Lawsuit

To establish negligence in a wrongful death action in Pennsylvania, the plaintiff must prove four critical components.

Duty of Care

The defendant had a legal duty to act in a certain way towards the deceased. For example, drivers have a duty to follow traffic laws and drive safely to avoid harming others

Breach of Duty

The defendant failed to conform to or breached that duty of care through action or inaction. This could be demonstrated by a driver running a red light or a company failing to remove known hazards in a workplace


There must be a direct link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death of the individual. This means showing that the death would not have occurred if not for the defendant’s negligence


Finally, it must be shown that the death resulted in financial losses for which compensation is being sought. This could include medical bills incurred before death, funeral and burial costs, loss of income and benefits, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering experienced by the deceased prior to death.

Gathering and presenting evidence that convincingly proves these elements typically necessitates comprehensive legal knowledge and skill, often necessitating the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney. Through legal strategies such as compiling eyewitness accounts, expert testimonials, and other forms of evidence, attorneys aim to build a compelling case to support the claim of negligence.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the law specifies that filing wrongful death lawsuits can only be done by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. This is typically an individual designated in the will or estate plan. If no such designation exists, the court may appoint a personal representative. While the personal representative initiates the lawsuit, the damages recovered through the lawsuit are distributed to the beneficiaries of the deceased person. These beneficiaries often include the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased individual.

It’s important to note that if the beneficiaries do not file a claim within six months of the date of death, any of the beneficiaries have the right to file the lawsuit on behalf of all beneficiaries. The distribution of any recovery obtained through a wrongful death lawsuit follows the intestacy laws of Pennsylvania if there is no will, primarily benefiting the deceased’s spouse, children, or parents in that order. This statutory scheme ensures that those who were financially dependent on the deceased person and who have suffered the most significant personal loss have the opportunity to be compensated for their loss.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims in Pennsylvania

The statute of limitations is a legal time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is generally two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. This means that the personal representative of the deceased’s estate has two years to initiate the wrongful death lawsuit against the party or parties responsible for the death. Filing a claim after this period typically results in the loss of the right to sue for damages.

There are certain exceptions that may extend this period for a wrongful death lawsuit under specific circumstances, such as when the cause of death was not discovered immediately. Given the complexity surrounding these exceptions, it is advisable to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney at PhillyLaw who can provide guidance on the matter and help ensure that all legal actions are initiated within the appropriate time limits.

Compensation in Wrongful Death Claims

In wrongful death lawsuits in Pennsylvania, the range of potential compensation and damages is comprehensive and aimed at remedying the financial and emotional loss experienced by the beneficiaries. These damages can be broadly categorized into economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate for the tangible financial losses resulting from the wrongful death. These may include:

  • Medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury leading to death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost wages and benefits, including what the deceased would likely have earned had they lived
  • Loss of inheritance due to the untimely death
  • The value of the services that the deceased would have provided, such as childcare, housekeeping, and other domestic tasks

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are awarded for the intangible losses suffered by the deceased’s loved ones, which can be harder to quantify. These may include:

  • Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before death
  • Loss of companionship, care, and protection provided by the deceased
  • Emotional distress suffered by the surviving family members due to the death

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. These are not designed to compensate the family but rather to punish the defendant for their conduct and deter similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions are found to be especially harmful or egregious.

A wrongful death attorney from PhillyLaw will be able to accurately assess the full scope of losses and seek appropriate compensation for the deceased person’s family members through the wrongful death lawsuit. An attorney can also guide the family through the complex process of calculation and negotiation of damages, ensuring that they receive the full financial support necessary to move forward after their loss.

Survival Action vs. Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania

While wrongful death claims in Pennsylvania seek compensation for the financial and emotional losses experienced by the deceased’s beneficiaries, a survival action serves a different purpose. Survival actions are legal claims that can be filed alongside or independently of wrongful death claims. These actions are essentially a continuation of any personal injury claim the deceased could have pursued had they survived. The significant distinction lies in the nature of damages sought; whereas wrongful death claims focus on the impact of the death on the surviving family members, survival actions aim to compensate for the damages the deceased incurred from the time of their injury to the time of their death.

Comparison with Wrongful Death Claims

  • Beneficiaries: Wrongful death lawsuits directly benefit the deceased’s immediate family members or dependents, while survival actions benefit the estate of the deceased.
  • Types of Damages: Wrongful death claims focus on compensating the family for their loss and the financial support they would have received. In contrast, survival actions seek compensation for the deceased’s estate for the pain, suffering, and financial losses the deceased endured between injury and death.
  • Legal Standing: Both claims are usually filed by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate, but the actual parties to benefit from the respective actions differ.

Understanding the nuances between wrongful death claims and survival actions is crucial for effectively navigating the legal landscape following a tragic loss in Pennsylvania. Each action serves to address different aspects of loss and recovery, providing a more comprehensive avenue for compensation. An experienced attorney from PhillyLaw who specializes in wrongful death actions can offer invaluable guidance on pursuing both claims to ensure the deceased’s estate and their loved ones receive the full measure of justice and support allowed under the law.

PhillyLaw Will Be Your Compassionate Advocate in a Wrongful Death Case

PhillyLaw is a staunch advocate for families grappling with the devastating loss of a loved one due to wrongful death. Our team of dedicated attorneys understands the profound emotional turmoil and financial challenges that accompany such a loss. If you’re seeking to file a wrongful death lawsuit for a family member’s untimely death, PhillyLaw is prepared to stand by your side. With extensive experience in wrongful death lawsuits in Pennsylvania, our attorneys will guide you through every step of the legal process with compassion and expertise. We are committed to securing the comprehensive compensation you deserve, aiming to alleviate the financial burden and bring a measure of justice and closure to your family. Contact our offices today for a free consultation. When you choose PhillyLaw, you choose a team that fights tirelessly for your rights and the memory of your loved one.