Welcome to Pennsylvania Law TV. Today we will be talking about wrongful death claims. My guest is attorney Dave Miller and he is going to talk with us about this topic. So Dave thanks for being here today.
Dave: Thank you.
Dei: Well Dave what is a wrongful death lawsuit?
Dave: Generally speaking a wrongful death lawsuit is one brought when neglect or the wrongful act of another causes the death of an individual. These lawsuits are brought for the decedents loved ones for certain types of damages that are caused when that individual passes away. The Pennsylvania law on this is that there is a limited class of individuals that can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. That is the individuals spouse, their children or their parents, and the recovery for the damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are set by law. There is a statute called the intestacy statute in Pennsylvania, so regardless of whether or not the deceased person had a will, the damages achieved in a wrongful death lawsuit will be determined by statute.
Dei: During the grief process, a lawsuit is not something most people are thinking about, but is there a time sensitivity to these types of claims?
Dave: There certainly is, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, which is the time period within which a claim must be brought in court, is 2 years from the date of death. This is different from a survival action which sometimes coincides with a wrongful death action. The statute of limitations for a survival claim is 2 years from the date of the harmful act that eventually led to death. Sometimes those dates are the same, others they are not. When the death occurs down the road from the harmful act, it’s important to remember there is a time limit on these claims and contacting an attorney that’s experienced in wrongful death claims immediately is very important.
Dei: And what are the different types of damages that come into play in a wrongful death claim?
Dave: Well the types of damages most people think about are economic losses, this is the fact that let’s say a father passes away still had 15 years of working life left that would have provided for his family and his children. These economic damages, there will be a subtraction from that amount of money earned for the type of money that individual would have spent along there lifetime, but that difference is no longer able to be achieved by the deceased so that makes up part of the damage claim in a wrongful death lawsuit. Additional types of damages are any gifts that can be proven that would have been provided by the deceased person to their spouse, children or parents. Also for any medical expenses incurred as a result of the harmful act that led to death, funeral expenses and administration of estate expenses.
Additionally Pennsylvania courts have sort of created their own little area as part of the damages package and we often think that money is obviously the easiest thing to calculate in these kinds of losses. But the reality is the loss of companionship, solace and love of that individual that has passed away should also be recovered and the Pennsylvania courts have acknowledged that fact with the decision so they are part of the lawsuit as well.
Dei: And Dave what are some of the biggest challenges you face as an attorney in handling these types of claims?
Dave: Well some of the biggest challenges are the calculations that I just went through, they can be very complex and sometimes depending on family structures explaining this process in how a wrongful death claim differs from a survival claim and who is entitled to what and why becomes a very difficult position to be put in when you have maybe some individuals that, in a difficult family situation where maybe one child wasn’t as close to the deceased than another and they are wondering why that person is getting sort of the same result after a lawsuit. Sometimes it’s a difficult position, and then obviously the underlying claim becomes important, sometimes these are very clear cut if it’s an automobile case and the other party is at fault it’s an easy one to kind of figure out what caused what but there are some other issues in other nature cases that connecting the harmful act with the death becomes a difficult challenge especially as more time elapses between the two.
Dei: And if someone has specific questions how can they reach your office?
Dave: Well they can reach us on the website at www.OConnorLaw.com or by phone at 1-800-518-4LAW.
Dei: Well Dave thanks for your time today.
Dave: You’re welcome.
Dei: Until next time this is Dei Lynam for Pennsylvania Law TV.