Are Wrongful Death Claims the Same as Personal Injury Cases?

  • Personal injury occurs when a person suffers mental or physical harm due to someone else's negligence.  If injuries are severe enough, the injured party may be entitled to compensation in a personal injury case.  If the injuries cause death, the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased may bring a claim to recover damages resulting from their loved one’s death in a wrongful death case.

     

    Both personal injury and wrongful death claims typically arise as a result of the negligent conduct of a third party, such as due to an automobile accident, medical malpractice, or a workplace injury. If you win the case, you or your family will be entitled to receive compensation for the damages sustained.

     

    Pennsylvania laws regarding personal injury and wrongful death are complicated, and there are time limits and procedures for filing.  Your case must be handled promptly and properly or you may never receive the settlement you deserve.  As a result, it makes sense to consult with qualified and experienced wrongful death and personal injury attorneys as soon as you realize you may have a case.

     

    Are Wrongful Death Claims the Same as Personal Injury?

     

    Personal Injury and wrongful death have many similarities, but some differences.

    To win a personal injury case, Pennsylvania law requires proving the other party was at fault by showing the following:

     

    • The party who caused the injuries had a responsibility to not injure you and failed to live up to that responsibility.
    • There is a connection between the other party’s responsibility and your injury.
    • You suffered damages, or a financial loss, as a result of your injury.

     

    Compensated costs for personal injury fall into two categories:

     

    • Economic damages -- expenses which can be objectively calculated, such as medical, therapy, equipment, and rehabilitation costs, lost income, loss of future wage horizon, property damage, and funeral and burial costs.
    • Non-economic damages -- may include pain and suffering, the loss of enjoyment of life, and the loss of a marital relationship (consortium).

     

    Wrongful death cases can be thought of as a personal injury case made by someone else after a loved one has died. Pennsylvania defines a wrongful death as a death “caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” The actions that caused the death are the same type of actions you would find in a personal injury claim, but since the person is deceased, the claim must be filed by another party, usually the Personal Representative or Executor of the estate. Relatives that qualify as beneficiaries are the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased who can show that they sustained financial damages.

     

    The damages recoverable in a wrongful death action may include:

     

    • medical, funeral, burial, and estate administration expenses
    • lost wages and benefits, including amounts the deceased reasonably would have been expected to contribute to the family's support from the date of the accident to the end of the normal life expectancy
    • compensation for the loss of household services, society, and comfort provided by the deceased, including both physical comforts and services and moral guidance, comfort, and support; loss of love, affection, and consortium for the surviving spouse, and loss of guidance, inheritance, moral upbringing, advice, love, and support for the deceased’s children
    • compensation for pain and suffering
    • punitive damages to punish the defendant if actions were particularly egregious or willful.

     

    There is no cap on the amount of damages for a wrongful death claim, except for punitive damages, which cannot exceed two times the amount of compensatory damages.

     

    Pennsylvania has a survivor statute that states that any causes of action or proceedings survive the death of the decedent. If a claim began during the decedent’s lifetime, that person’s estate may recover damages for pain and suffering, loss of gross earning power from the date of the injury until death, and loss of earning power, less personal maintenance expenses from the time of the death through decedent’s estimated working life span.

     

    Time Limits

     

    In Pennsylvania, there is a statute of limitations that allows two years from the date of an injury to file a lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. (42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. section 5524).  A wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of the death or it will not be heard by the court unless some exception applies.

     

    Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed by the Personal Representative of the estate of the deceased. If the Personal Representative does not file a wrongful death lawsuit within six months after the death, any beneficiary may file on behalf of all the beneficiaries.