Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Wrongful Death Claims in Pennsylvania

May 24, 2023

When you lose a loved one unexpectedly, it is natural to have questions about just about everything. Your life has been turned upside down, and you are dealing with a scenario that you could never have imagined. While it is important to get advice that is custom-tailored to your individual circumstances, we have prepared answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) that you can use to begin learning about your family’s legal rights in Pennsylvania.

When is a Death Considered “Wrongful” in Pennsylvania?

A death can be considered “wrongful” under a variety of different circumstances. In most cases, the key question is whether the victim’s death was the result of someone else’s (or a company’s) negligence. When a fatal accident is the result of a person’s or company’s negligence, the negligent party can be held fully accountable under Pennsylvania law. Examples of negligence include everything from speeding and driving while distracted to failing to repair hazardous property conditions and providing inadequate care in a hospital or nursing home facility.

In certain circumstances, proof of negligence is not required. Some cases are governed by the law of “strict liability,” which holds parties accountable regardless of their level of care. For example, if a fatal accident results from a defective vehicle component or another defective product, the manufacturer can be held strictly liable under Pennsylvania law.

How Do I Prove that My Loved One’s Death Was Wrongful?

Proving the cause of a fatal accident requires a prompt and thorough investigation. As a result, if you believe that your family may have a wrongful death claim, it is important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will hire an investigator and take all of the other steps that are necessary to gather the evidence needed to prove your family’s legal rights.

What Financial Losses Can My Family Recover?

In wrongful death cases filed in Pennsylvania, families can recover all of the financial losses they suffer as a result of their loved one’s death. This includes both financial losses they have suffered to date and financial losses they will suffer in the future. In a typical case, the damages that are available to eligible family members will include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral, burial and cremation expenses
  • Loss of future income and benefits
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Loss of services

Am I Entitled to Financial Compensation for My Pain and Suffering?

In Pennsylvania, eligible family members can recover financial compensation for the pain and suffering they endure as a result of their loved one’s untimely death. However, proving pain and suffering isn’t easy, so it is important to work closely with your lawyer to both calculate and document the “value” of your pain and suffering.

Does Pennsylvania Have a Cap on Wrongful Death Damages?

No. Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not have a cap on wrongful death damages. This means that no matter how substantial your family’s losses may be, your family is entitled to full compensation under Pennsylvania law. When you hire a lawyer to handle your family’s wrongful death case, your family’s lawyer will spend a significant amount of time assessing your family’s losses and working with experts to make sure he or she is seeking the maximum compensation available.

Who Can File (or Who Needs to File) My Family’s Wrongful Death Claim?

Pennsylvania law requires that the family’s wrongful death claim be filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If your loved one left a will, his or her will should designate a personal representative. If your loved one had not yet prepared a will at the time of his or her death, a personal representative will need to be appointed through the probate process. Your family’s lawyer can help with this as well.

Are Wrongful Death Claims Covered By Insurance?

Yes, many wrongful death claims are covered by insurance. If your loved one was killed in a fatal car accident, at a home or business, or in an accident caused by a product defect, filing a claim will most likely involve dealing with the liable party’s insurance companies. Medical malpractice insurance and nursing home insurance policies cover wrongful death claims as well.

Is the Compensation I Receive from a Wrongful Death Claim Taxable in Pennsylvania?

As a general rule, the damages recovered through a wrongful death action are not considered to be income—and as a result, they are not subject to income tax. However, certain exceptions apply. When pursuing your family’s wrongful death claim, you will want to discuss any potential tax implications with your family’s lawyer, and if your family receives a settlement, your family’s lawyer may be able to structure the settlement to avoid unnecessary tax implications.

What are the First Steps for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?

If you believe that your family may have a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania, your first step is to contact a lawyer who can help you. Not all law firms handle wrongful death claims, so it is important to choose a firm that has experience representing families like yours. When you meet with a lawyer, the lawyer will explain everything you need to know, and if you choose to move forward, the lawyer will guide you through the next steps in the process.

How Long Will the Process Take?

The process of filing a wrongful death claim can take anywhere from a few months to well over a year. The duration of the process depends on several factors, from the evidence that is available to the insurance company (or companies) involved.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation About Your Family’s Wrongful Death Claim

If you have more questions about filing a wrongful death claim in Pennsylvania, we invite you to get in touch. With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton and Stroudsburg, we handle wrongful death claims statewide. To speak with an experienced lawyer about your family’s wrongful death claim in confidence, please call 888-479-9197 or request a free consultation online today.