When a loved one dies, your loss is an emotional one. You remember the good times you spent with them, at the beach, by a fireside, or at dinners together. It is not simply a matter of dollars and cents, particularly if a child dies. Pennsylvania law has finally recognized this reality in a series of decisions interpreting the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act. In the most recent decision, the Pennsylvania intermediate appellate court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, found that the parents of a young baby were entitled to a money award for the loss of their baby’s companionship and comfort even though the child was only age 17 months when he died. Hatwood v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 2012 Pa. Super. 217 (October 5, 2012).
In Hatwood, a baby named Hyseem suffered a loss of oxygen when he was born by caesarian section, and the injury caused cerebral palsy. He died at age 17 months from the complications from cerebral palsy.
On appeal, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) argued that the trial court had made a mistake in allowing the jury to award a lump sum of money to the parents for the loss of the baby’s companionship, society and comfort had he lived. The defense position was the traditional view of Pennsylvania law until Rettger v. UPMC, 991 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 2010). In Rettger, after the death of a 24-year-old single male with no children or dependents, his parents sought damages for their losses arising from his death. The Defendant UPMC argued that the only services the child had provided to his parents was doing yard work when he returned to his family home on the weekends. The Superior Court in Rettger held that the loss of “services” the 24-year-old child would have provided included damages for the profound emotional and psychological loss that the parents suffered upon the death of a child.
In Hatwood, the trial court instructed the jury that they could award the baby’s parents a sum that would “fairly and adequately compensate the family for the monetary value of the companionship, society, and comfort that Hyseem Jacobs would have given to his family had he had lived; including such elements as work around the home, provision of physical comfort and services, and provision of society and comfort”. The Superior Court found that the jury instruction given by the trial court was proper. The Superior Court further found that an award of $1.5 million was supported by testimony at trial. The baby’s father had testified that it was a close knit family. A brother of the baby testified that the brothers played games with the baby and helped care for him.
The good news is that Pennsylvania law on wrongful death has finally recognized reality and found that parents of a deceased child are entitled to money to adequately compensate them for the loss of the services, society and comfort a child would have provided to his/her family had the deceased child lived.
If a wrongful death case arises out of the death to a young person, it is important that you retain counsel who knows how to present evidence of the value of a child to a family. This includes testimony about what the child did for the family, and what he or she meant for the family.
Although any death is tragic, it is good to see that Pennsylvania wrongful death law is finally catching up with the reality of what a death in the family means when there is the loss of a child.
At Galfand Berger, our personal injury attorneys are experienced litigators who have represented countless families in wrongful death lawsuits. As skilled trial attorneys, we are prepared to present a compelling case, explaining the devastating extent of your losses resulting from the wrongful death of your loved one. We maintain offices throughout Southeast Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Bethlehem and Reading – so we are available to clients throughout the Philadelphia, Allentown and Harrisburg regions. We also represent clients throughout South Jersey including Camden, Burlington, Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem and Atlantic Counties. Call us today at 1-800-222-USWA (8792) to schedule a free consultation to discuss your wrongful death or other personal injury matter, or contact us online.