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Understanding wrongful death claims in Pennsylvania

Most people in Pennsylvania understand that a person who suffers an injury caused by another person's negligence has a claim for damages against that person. But what about a person who dies as the result of another person's negligence? Can a dead person sue for damages? What about survivors' claims for financial support? In 1976, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a statute that created a special claim for damages caused by a death that was caused by the wrongful act of another, i.e., a "wrongful death."

The general rule is simple to state: A specified group of persons is authorized to bring an action for damages resulting from the death of an individual that was caused by the "wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another. . . ." The class of persons authorized to bring such a suit are called "beneficiaries," and the group includes the spouse, children or parents of the deceased. If no person is eligible to bring a wrongful death action, the decedent's personal representative may bring an action, but the available damages are limited as described below.

The beneficiaries can recover damages for "loss of support, services, lost prospect of inheritance, and medical and funeral expenses." Beneficiaries can also recover damages for medical expenses, funeral expenses, and expenses incurred in administering the estate. After paying the various expenses, the damages must be disbursed among surviving beneficiaries. In an action begun by the personal representative, the damages are limited to out-of-pocket expenses for medical care, the funeral and administration of the estate.

Anyone who has lost a loved one in a traffic accident, as the result of medical malpractice or any other wrongful act should consult the lawyers at Leisawitz Heller in Reading for an evaluation of the case. The firm's attorneys are knowledgeable about wrongful death cases, and they can provide an analysis of the facts and evidence that will govern the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages.

Source: Pennsylvania Consol. Stat. ยง8301, accessed on April 24, 2017

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