When a person has suffered fatal injuries because of the negligence or wrongdoing of another, who can file a wrongful death lawsuit? The answer depends on state law and the circumstances of the case.
Each state has laws dictating who may bring wrongful death claims. Some states allow wrongful death claims to be brought by designated beneficiaries who are separated into classes depending on their relationship to the deceased. The first class, typically consisting of immediate family members, will have the exclusive right to sue unless there are no living members of that class. In that case, the second class, typically consisting of distant family members, will have the exclusive right to sue. If there are no living members of any class, then a wrongful death claim may not be brought.
Other states require wrongful death claims to be brought by the decedent’s estate. A personal representative will usually be appointed by the court and held responsible for administering the decedent’s assets. This often occurs if the decedent had a will, in which case, the personal representative has the sole right to bring the wrongful death claim.
In Pennsylvania, a wrongful death claim must be filed by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The personal representative is most commonly a spouse, child, or parent. However, if the personal representative does not file a wrongful death claim within six months of the passing, any beneficiary may file a claim on behalf of all the beneficiaries.
Wrongful death claims may be initiated in different situations. Some of the most common types of accidents that lead to wrongful death claims include car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and workplace accidents. A plaintiff must typically prove that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased, that the defendant breached that duty of care, and that the deceased passed because of the defendant’s breach.
The burden of proof in wrongful death cases requires the plaintiff to prove the elements of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower burden of proof than is required in criminal cases, in which the elements of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if a defendant is not convicted on criminal charges, they may still be liable in a civil wrongful death suit.
In Pennsylvania, the personal representative may recover damages on behalf of the decedent’s estate for medical, funeral burial, and estate administration expenses. The decedent’s spouse, children, and parents may recover damages for loss of companionship, comfort, income, and parental guidance.
Although no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, financial compensation can help with expenses incurred because of the loss, such as medical, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of income. Philadelphia wrongful death lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP are committed to helping you get both justice and compensation. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we represent clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.