After the passing of a loved one, it’s hard to know what to do next. If that loss comes after an accident or act of negligence, your stress is likely doubled. You may have the chance to win compensation with proper legal help. A Bethlehem wrongful death attorney at our firm understands your grief and is here to help.
Eligibility to Receive Compensation for Wrongful Death
In Pennsylvania, not everyone is eligible to sue and recover compensation pursuant to a wrongful death action. Statutory law provides a right of action to specific beneficiaries related to the deceased: the spouse, children, and parents — in that order.
Of course, eligibility for wrongful death recovery can get tricky when there are no qualified beneficiaries. There are shocking accidents which result in the death of a couple (and their parents/children). Alternatively, the deceased may simply not have living parents, or a spouse/children. In those cases, the default laws of intestate succession apply.
Pennsylvania intestate succession distributes the damages recovered in a wrongful death action to the remaining beneficiaries. Without a spouse, parents, or children, intestate succession laws would allow the siblings (and their children) to recover wrongful death damages. Without siblings, the grandparents could recover wrongful death damages. Without living grandparents, the uncles and aunts (and their children) could recover wrongful death damages. Finally, if nobody is left, the state will collect damages. Our attorneys understand how complicated this may seem, and we encourage you to contact our offices if you believe you may be eligible for compensation via a wrongful death claim.
Your Questions Answered By an Experienced Bethlehem Wrongful Death Attorney
Though each claim is different, the Bethlehem wrongful death attorneys at our firm provide answers to some of our most come questions.
If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, is there any way a Bethlehem wrongful death attorney can still help me?
There may be. Under some circumstances, the Pennsylvania statute of limitations deadline for wrongful death actions can be “suspended” or “extended.” One common reason is the Discovery Rule.
The Discovery Rule prevents the statute of limitations deadline from running until the plaintiff discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) that the defendant caused their damages.
Let’s apply this to a wrongful death claim.
Suppose that your father dies of a severe infection after breaking some bones in a slip-and-fall accident. However, as it turns out, you later discover (due to a product recall years later) that his hip replacement device was defective and significantly contributed to the infection risk.
Given these new facts, you could presumably sue the device manufacturer for wrongful death, and the statute of limitations period would not have started to run until the date that you discovered the link between the device and the infection.
Statute of limitations issues can be complicated, so it’s important that you consult with an experienced Bethlehem wrongful death lawyer at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC, for guidance on how to proceed.
Can I sue a family member or friend for wrongful death?
Yes, you can. The unfortunate reality is that many wrongful death scenarios are caused by a family member’s negligence or a trusted friend. For example, if your father was a passenger in a vehicle with a family member (driver) who happened to be intoxicated at the time, and they got into a car accident that resulted in your father’s death, then that could give rise to a wrongful death claim against the intoxicated family member.
The fact that your family member is a defendant should have no impact on the case. However, it’s worth noting that if this family member would have been eligible for damages (in a wrongful or survival death action against a third-party), they will not be entitled to receive such damages. This could lead to a bigger payout for the remaining beneficiaries.
Is there a cap on wrongful death damages in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, there is no cap on wrongful death damages — economic or non-economic damages. As such, potential wrongful death damages totals tend to be larger (by comparison to other states).
This has several effects, though perhaps most importantly, it puts pressure on wrongful death defendants to negotiate a favorable settlement early, giving a significant advantage to the wrongful death plaintiffs.
Can I still win a wrongful death civil action if the defendant was not found guilty in criminal court?
Yes, you can. Criminal litigation operates somewhat differently than civil litigation. Suppose that the defendant intentionally attacked and killed your relative. However, the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence to find them guilty of murder.
That does not necessarily mean that you won’t successfully impose wrongful death liability on the defendant. Criminal litigation is based on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In other words, the prosecution has to prove that the defendant is guilty, to the point where guilt is 99 percent likely. That’s a high bar.
By comparison, civil litigation only requires that the defendant be “more likely than not” to have been responsible. Mathematically, this means a 51 percent likelihood of liability. As such, a defendant can be civilly liable for wrongful death (and have to pay damages) without being criminally liable.
These Cases aren’t Easy. Let a Bethlehem Wrongful Death Attorney Help You Pursue Your Claim
The ability to bring a wrongful death claim may depend heavily on your ability to produce the appropriate documentation. The ability to show a connection to the deceased is critical. A court may ask to review marriage or birth certificates, shared bills or other contractual obligations, and any other type of documentation that shows a close relationship between you (the “claimant”) and the deceased.
Speak to our Bethlehem wrongful death attorney if you have questions about your specific situation. We have the experience and expertise to ensure that you are able to accurately and completely peruse your wrongful death claim.
We encourage you to call us toll-free at 888-777-7098 or complete an online case evaluation form through our website. Consultations are free and confidential.