Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC

What Damages Are Available to Family Members in a Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Case?

May 17, 2023

Losing a loved one in an accident is a tragedy that no family should have to endure. Sadly, fatal accidents are far too common, and each year many Pennsylvania families find themselves suddenly struggling to cope with losing a loved one too soon.

Along with the severe emotional toll of a loved one’s wrongful death, losing a loved one too soon can have significant financial consequences as well. Not only must the victim’s family find a way to manage the costs of his or her end-of-life care, funeral, and burial or cremation, but the family must find a way to deal with the loss of the victim’s financial support as well.

In many cases, recovering compensation for the emotional and financial costs of a fatal accident involves filing a claim for wrongful death.

Understanding Your Family’s Legal Rights After a Fatal Accident in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s wrongful death law allows families to recover financial compensation when they lose loved ones due to a company’s or another person’s negligence. Negligence can take many forms, from hiring unqualified workers and selling dangerous products to driving while distracted, drunk or high. When a company or person is negligent in Pennsylvania, that company or person can be held financially responsible for the consequences—including the death of a family member.

Filing a wrongful death claim typically involves dealing with the negligent party’s insurance company. Auto insurance policies, homeowner’s insurance policies, and commercial general liability (CGL) policies all cover fatal accidents when the policyholder is to blame. If your family can establish liability, the negligent party’s insurance company will have to pay for all of the covered losses your family has endured and will endure in the future.

Damages Available to Grieving Families in Wrongful Death Cases

These covered losses are referred to as your family’s “damages.” Under Pennsylvania law, grieving families can recover several types of damages in wrongful death cases. All types of damages fall into one of two broad categories—they are either: (i) economic damages or (ii) non-economic damages.

1. Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Economic damages include all damages that are financial in nature. Grieving families can suffer economic damages due to both incurring additional expenses and losing the benefit of their loved one’s work and income. Generally speaking, the economic damages that are recoverable in a Pennsylvania wrongful death case include the following:

  • Medical Expenses – If the victim incurred any medical expenses prior to death, these expenses are included in the family’s economic damages. This includes the cost of emergency treatment at the scene of the accident, ambulance or air transportation, surgery, and all other diagnostic and treatment expenses.
  • Funeral, Burial and Cremation Expenses – In wrongful death cases in Pennsylvania, the family can also seek to recover the costs of their loved one’s funeral and burial or cremation. Even though these expenses are inevitable for all of us, Pennsylvania law allows families to recover them in cases of wrongful death caused by negligence.
  • Loss of Future Earnings – The family is also entitled to seek damages for the loss of their loved one’s future earnings. These damages are calculated based on the victim’s income, future employment prospects (i.e., whether he or she was likely to have received any raises or promotions in the future), and the number of years he or she would have worked until retirement.
  • Loss of Future Benefits – Along with future income, grieving families can also seek just compensation for the loss of their loved one’s future benefits. This includes healthcare insurance, pension payments, matching retirement contributions, and any other benefits he or she may have received through employment.
  • Loss of Inheritance – Eligible family members can recover damages for their loss of inheritance resulting from their loved one’s death. If a family member’s inheritance would have been greater had their loved one survived to continue amassing a larger estate, then this family member is entitled to just compensation.
  • Loss of Services – If the victim provided services for which his or her family will now be forced to pay, these additional expenses qualify as economic damages as well. This applies to services such as cleaning, landscaping, home maintenance, childcare and in-home care.

2. Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Non-economic damages are those that do not have an impact on family members’ finances but instead negatively impact their lives in other ways. While each case is unique, some examples of non-economic damages that may be available to grieving family members in a Pennsylvania wrongful death case include:

  • Emotional Distress, Pain, and Suffering – Family members who lose loved ones unexpectedly can find themselves coping with severe emotional distress. Many family members will also experience pain and suffering for years, if not the rest of their lives.
  • Loss of Advice, Care, Nurturing, and Support – Spouses, children, and other family members can find their lives forever changed by the unexpected loss of their companion, parent, or other loved one. Pennsylvania law allows for recovery of damages for loss of advice, care, nurturing and support in these cases.
  • Loss of Companionship – Eligible family members can also recover damages for their loss of companionship. No longer having a loved one in your life can have profound effects, and Pennsylvania law provides the opportunity to recover financial compensation for these effects of a loved one’s wrongful death as well.
  • Loss of Consortium – Loss of consortium refers to the loss of a familial relationship, including the loss of affection and sexual relations with a spouse. This is another type of loss for which eligible family members can seek financial compensation under Pennsylvania law.

Speak with a Lawyer About Your Family’s Legal Rights

If you have lost a loved one in a fatal accident in Pennsylvania, we encourage you to contact us for more information. With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton and Stroudsburg, we represent grieving families statewide. To arrange a free, no-obligation consultation at your convenience, please call 888-479-9197 or inquire online today.