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What do you need to prove in a wrongful death case in Pennsylvania?

In order to recover monetary damages in an action for wrongful death, plaintiff must prove that the death was caused by violence or negligence of another and that no action for arising out of the same situation was brought by decedent during his or her lifetime. In addition, before there can be any recovery at all in damages for the negligent death of a relative, there must be a pecuniary loss which has been defined to be a destruction of a reasonable expectation of pecuniary advantage from deceased.

The family members of the deceased may recover expenses in conjunction with hospital, nursing, medical and funeral expenses, and all such items as intended to cover only such expenses as were immediately attendant upon, and related to, decedent's injuries and death. In addition, the family members are entitled to receive loss of earnings during decedent's life expectancy in a specified amount. It means that the surviving spouse, child or parent may be entitled to compensation for probable earning capacity of the decedent during his/her lifetime. Computing the loss of earnings depends on the decedent's expected age, business habits, past earnings and place of employment, as well as the amount of earnings allegedly devoted to the maintenance of the wife and children. The amount of financial compensation available to the family depends of the proper estimation of the damages, including the loss of the expected earning power of the decedent. It is a complicated procedure and the family needs to hire an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney to receive the highest compensation available under the law.

If your parent, spouse or a child has died as a result of a negligent or violent act of another, contact the Lassen Law Firm as soon as possible to discuss your legal rights. If you wait too long to contact an attorney, your right to sue may be timely barred. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations is two years for personal injury cases. It means that personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years from the date a cause of action accrues. Generally, in wrongful death cases, a cause of action accrues at the time of death.

There are, however, several exceptions to the general rule.

Our Pennsylvania civil litigation attorneys at the Lassen Law Firm will evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case to determine whether an exception to the general statute of limitations is applicable in your case. For example, one of the exceptions to Pennsylvania two-year statute of limitations is discovery rule. Discovery rule, which provides that statute of limitations runs from time of actual discovery, or time when discovery of injury was reasonably possible, may apply to toll running of statute of limitations for wrongful death in those instances when plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to be aware of injury or of its cause.

Who may sue for Wrongful Death in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Statute: The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act provides that the right to sue exists only for the: surviving spouse, child, parent, guardian, or personal representative of the deceased individual. The Lassen Law Firm can help you become the personal representative, the person appointed by the state to represent the beneficiaries. Brothers, sisters and cousins of the decedent don't have the right to file a lawsuit unless they have been named as the legal guardian or personal representative of the decedent.

Once people have lost their loved ones as a result of wrongful death, they may feel helpless. It is hard enough for people to deal with their traumatic loss, let alone the financial difficulties that are often associated with most wrongful deaths. Thankfully, personal injury law allows survivors of wrongful death victims to seek monetary damages for the loss of their loved ones.

Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Damages

We pursue all available damages under Pennsylvania law. The Lassen Law Firm only deducts a small 25% for all wrongful death cases, thus, you will get maximum compensation.

Pennsylvania law defines wrongful death as death resulting from a wrongful act of another, usually negligence or violence. The decedent's spouse, child, parent or personal representative may recover compensation by filing a lawsuit against the responsible parties. Wrongful death actions are subject to the Pennsylvania statute of limitations which means that the family member has a certain time period during which he/she may bring a this action.

Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Action In Pennsylvania?

The decedent's spouse, children, parents or personal representative may bring a wrongful death action in Pennsylvania. For example:

  • Spouses of decedents who died in a fatal airplane crash brought wrongful death actions against the airplane manufacturer and the airline;
  • A widower whose wife died in a car accident brought a wrongful death action against the driver responsible for the collision;
  • A parent of a girl who was struck by a train in Pennsylvania brought a wrongful death action against the train operator;
  • A hotel had a duty to provide safe premises, for purpose of Pennsylvania wrongful death action brought by relatives of the deceased (who died as a result of an altercation on the hotel's parking lot) against the hotel alleging failure to provide lighting and security sufficient to maintain reasonable and safe premises;
  • Wives of decedents who died as a result of being exposed to asbestos, brought a wrongful death action against the company employing the decedents;
  • The mother of a 14-year-old bicyclist who died when he was struck by a car, brought a wrongful death action against the driver;
  • A child, who was not yet born at time of father's death in an automobile accident, was nevertheless entitled to recover damages under Wrongful Death Act; under the Act, which incorporates the rules of descent, the child had to be treated as if born before his father's death;
  • A cause of action may be maintained under the Wrongful Death Act on behalf of a seven-week-old, non-viable fetus for injuries allegedly received while in the womb even though the child was not born alive;
  • Right of recovery existed under Wrongful Death Act on behalf of a stillborn child who died as result of injuries received en ventre sa mere (literally, in his mother's belly);
  • Under Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, a mother of a deceased workman was entitled to damages for the loss of the financial support, which she had been receiving from her son.

Who Are the Responsible Parties in Wrongful Death Cases?

Wrongful death action may be filed against those whose negligence caused the death. An experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer will help identify those whose negligence or violence was the cause of death.

The responsible parties in wrongful death cases in Pennsylvania may include:

  • Hospital blood bank employees who administered wrong type of blood which caused death of a patient;
  • Employer of a remodeling workman who died when scaffolding in the workplace collapsed;
  • The city and traffic control company responsible for the traffic accident;
  • An employer of an independent contractor who failed to warn of a dangerous condition on the premises;
  • A steel company that knew or should have known of visibility problems attending the plant operations; the steel company was held liable, when the decedent was killed as result of his machine falling off the edge of pile at night, for its failure to take the special precaution of providing artificial lighting;
  • The proprietor of an ice plant who for eight years knew that young children trespassed on strip of his land between sidewalk and building, and who created a dangerous condition by keeping on sloping platform on such strip an unfastened heavy cylinder which any reasonably prudent person would expect to harm playing children by rolling off at a slightest jar, and risk of which young children could not be expected to realize, was negligent and liable for death of a trespassing child who was struck by cylinder which rolled off platform;
  • A truck company whose driver was negligently operating the company's truck when it collided with the decedent's truck and caused the decedent's death;
  • A physician who failed to timely diagnose a wife's breast cancer and was liable under the Wrongful Death Act in the husband's wrongful death action;
  • A trolley company whose employee was driving a trolley in a negligent manner and killed a decedent;
  • The manufacturer of a metal tower was responsible for death of an employee who was fatally injured as a result of a fall from the metal tower;
  • The manufacturer of a helicopter that crashed and caused the decedent's death was liable for breach of warranties in the manufacture of a helicopter;

Survival Action in Pennsylvania

Survival actions are lawsuits brought by a decedent's estate (as if the decedent had lived), and are based on claims involving torts to property or torts resulting in personal injury. Under Pennsylvania law, if a person is injured by the act of another, a cause of action may accrue to the injured person. His or death does not remove the cause of action; it survives the death of the injured person and continues in the decedent's personal representative. The damages recoverable are measured by the pecuniary loss occasioned to the injured person, and therefore to his or her estate, by the negligent act which caused death. Survival action is separate and distinct from wrongful death action.

The difference between the wrongful death and survival actions is as follows:

In a survival action, the personal representative of the decedent is substituted for the decedent. The recovery obtained depends on the rights of action which the decedent possessed at the time of his/her death and, as in a personal injury action, amounts to the damages that the decedent himself/herself sustained. In a wrongful death cause of action, recovery depends on the rights of action that the beneficiaries, as named by statute, possess. Moreover, recovery in a wrongful death action amounts to the pecuniary loss suffered by the beneficiaries by being deprived of the part of the decedent's earnings they would have received had the decedent lived. Thus, a survival action seeks to compensate for different damages than does an action for wrongful death.


Measure of damages awarded in a survival action includes the decedent's pain and suffering, loss of gross earning power from date of injury until death, and loss of his earning power less personal maintenance expenses, from the time of death through his estimated working life span. The recovery obtained in a Pennsylvania survival action depends on the causes of action the decedent possessed at the time of death and, as in a personal injury action, amounts to the damages that decedent himself or herself sustained. Thus, the estate may recover lost earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering before death.

Calculating damages

Net lost earnings are decided by first calculating the total amount of the decedent's gross earnings, including the fringe benefits, between the date of death and the expected working life span, and deducting from this amount the amount of monetary contributions [he] [she] would have made to [his] [her] family during this period and the amount of money that the decedent would have spent on [himself] [herself] for [his] [her] personal maintenance during this period. The probable cost of personal maintenance includes only the necessary and economical living expenses, such as food, shelter, and clothing, that the decedent would have been required to spend in order to maintain life during this period.

Pain and suffering damages constitute an amount that will fairly and adequately compensate for the mental and physical pain, suffering, and inconvenience

and loss of life's pleasures that the decedent endured from the moment of

[his] [her] injury to the moment of [his] [her] death as a result of this accident.

However, the decedent's pain and suffering damages are not recoverable in every survival action under Pennsylvania law. Where the decedent is unconscious for the entire period between the time of injury and the time of death, there can be no recovery for pain and suffering in a survival action. Also, where the decedent is killed instantaneously, there can be no recovery for pain and suffering in a survival action. Usually survival actions and wrongful death actions are combined in a single suit to avoid double recovery.

Why You Need to Hire a Survival Action Attorney

In survival actions, the amount of compensation the decedent's estate will receive depends on the proper estimation of all damages allowed under the Survival Act. With the help of an experienced Pennsylvania survival action attorney, the decedent's estate may recover high compensation. At the Lassen Law Firm, our Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys have handed many survival and wrongful death actions. Most of the survival actions settled before going to trial to the great satisfaction of our clients who did not have to litigate their survival action cases for many years. The Lassen Law Firm offers zealous representation to those who seek financial compensation in survival actions. If you have lost a loved one due to a wrongful act of another, contact the Lassen Law Firm to discuss your right to file a survival action.

Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations in Survival Actions

Waiting too long can be detrimental to your right to recover, because in a survival action, statute of limitations begins to run on the date of injury, as though the decedent were bringing his or her own lawsuit. The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is two years for personal injury cases. In some situations, however, it may be tolled. Thus, under discovery rule, which provides that statute of limitations runs from time of actual discovery, or time when discovery of injury was reasonably possible, the decedent's estate may bring a survival action outside of the two-year limitation if certain requirements are met. In addition, statute of limitations may be tolled under the fraudulent concealment doctrine, which applies when the liable parties had a duty to disclose a fact, but concealed it.

Survival Action Cases Pennsylvania

Survival actions are lawsuits filed by the decedent's estate to recover damages. In Pennsylvania, wrongful death and survival actions are often combined in one lawsuit. Damages recoverable in each action, however, differ. Thus, under a survival action, pain and suffering damages are available. The following are examples of survival actions brought in Pennsylvania under the Survival Act.

  • The estate of a painter who earned $25.00 per hour and had life expectancy of 45 years and contributed all of his earnings to his family, recovered an award of over $171, 000 in a survival action.
  • A widow brought a survival action against the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos products because her husband's death had been caused by an occupational exposure to asbestos fibers and dust during his employment.
  • An award of $178,000 was recovered by the decedent's estate in a survival action where the decedent earned $25,000 per year salary, owned 35-acre farm, and was in excellent health.
  • Under Pennsylvania Survival Act, plaintiff was entitled to recover for a minor decedent's estate the present worth of the excess of decedent's future earnings over the cost of his maintenance.
  • In suit to recover for wrongful death of a ten-year-old boy who fell down an elevator shaft, a jury returned a verdict of $59,000 to the child's estate under the survival action; the minor decedent's estate recovered the present worth of the excess of decedent's future earnings over the cost of his maintenance.
  • A husband recovered in a survival action for medical malpractice following his wife's death due to the late diagnosis of breast cancer.
  • The estate of the decedent who died two days after he was stabbed on the defendant's premises recovered pain and suffering damages in a survival action brought against a motel and its owners for negligence in serving liquor to the visibly intoxicated decedent.
  • The decedent's estate brought a survival action alleging international resort Sandals' negligence rendering decedent quadriplegic and causing his untimely death, recovered $6.5 million. The pain and suffering damages for the decedent's 250 days of pain and suffering as quadriplegic until his death amounted to $1 million.
  • A jury awarded $54,000 in a survival action brought by the father of an 8 -year-old decedent. The father had to prove what the decedent's earning power would have been had he lived.
  • The administratix of the estate brought a survival action and recovered $50,000 for pecuniary loss resulting from the decedent's injuries, pain, suffering, and loss of life in addition to funeral and administration expenses of $1520. The decedent's estate was entitled to include a claim for loss of earning power during the decedent's normal life expectancy because no wrongful death action was filed, so there was no duplicate recovery.
  • A widow of the decedent who died a week after a tuck crash occurring when the truck he was driving collided with a tractor trailer on a major highway, brought a survival action and recovered pain and suffering damages.
  • The estate of a decedent, who had been in a persistent vegetative state for 10 months prior to his death, recovered pain and suffering damages and had to present competent opinion testimony that the decedent could in fact experience such pain and suffering.
  • A widow, the administratrix of the estate of a workman who sustained fatal burns when downspout he was removing from a building came in contact with his face, brought a survival action and recovered pain and suffering damages.
  • A widow, the administratrix of the estate, recovered in a survival action pain and suffering her husband suffered prior to his asbestos-related cancer death.
  • Parents of a child who was born prematurely and died, brought a survivor action and recovered pain and suffering damages.
  • Parents of minor children brought survival actions against a property owner following death of the children who drowned when they fell through ice on a water-filled hole.
  • The estate of the decedent, a child born to an Rh-negative mother, recovered damages from the physicians who cared for the mother and who had a duty to protect the future child against effects of Rh-sensitization.
  • Administrator of the deceased child's estate brought a survival action against the provider of foster care services and its officers and employees for wrongful death when the 4 year-old decedent was left alone near an open pool, fell in it and drowned.
  • Administrator of the estate of the decedent, who slipped, fell, hit his head on the deck and died aboard a cruise ship, brought a survival action against the company which organized the cruise.

If you have recently lost a loved one due to negligence or violence of another, you may not have the strength now to deal with the complex and time-consuming procedure of obtaining compensation. Our experienced attorneys at the Lassen Law Firm are here to help. We will listen to you carefully, evaluate your case and advise you about your rights to sue. Call the Lassen Law Firm today to see how we can help.