When a loved one dies, financial worries can compound the family’s grief. This is especially true when the deceased individual was a family breadwinner or parent. When another person’s negligence caused the fatality, the family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Learn more about how wrongful death works in Pennsylvania. 

Who can file a wrongful death suit? 

If the deceased person had a will that named a personal representative for his or her estate, that person must file the wrongful death claim on behalf of the family. When no personal representative exists, or if that person does not file a lawsuit within six months of the date of death, any of the deceased person’s heirs may file a claim. This may include the person’s surviving spouse, parents or adult children. 

How does the court determine fault? 

The plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty to act with care and failed to fulfill that duty, directly resulting in another person’s death. For example, if the person died in a car accident resulting from a drunk driver, the defendant failed to fulfill the duty of driving safely and responsibly. The judge will review evidence such as photos, videos, police reports and eyewitness testimony. Even if a criminal case is pending in association with the death, the family can still file a simultaneous civil lawsuit. 

What type of legal damages are available? 

The court may award the family of the deceased person damages that cover: 

  • Pain and suffering compensation 
  • Loss of household services that the deceased person completed 
  • Loss of comfort and companionship that the deceased person provided 
  • Loss of the deceased person’s current and future wages and benefits 
  • The legal costs of administering the person’s estate 
  • Medical expenses associated with the fatal injury 
  • Funeral expenses 

What is the statute of limitations? 

The personal representative or surviving family members must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the person’s death. Otherwise, the court will dismiss the case, and the estate will be unable to recover damages.