Understanding wrongful death claims

Many auto accidents in the Scranton-Northeast Pennsylvania region result in the death of one or more persons. Families of persons killed in such accidents often ask whether anyone can be held liable for the death? The answer is “Yes,” at least for certain family members of the decedent.

The basics

The Pennsylvania wrongful death statute creates a cause of action for the spouse, children or parents of a person who is killed by the wrongful act or neglect of another. “Wrongful act or neglect” is generally defined as negligence, that is, the failure to use reasonable care in carrying out a duty owed to another.

For example, drivers on Pennsylvania highways owe a legal duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians. This duty precludes speeding and requires all drivers to obey the state’s traffic laws. The failure to follow this duty is generally considered to be the type of wrongful act or neglect that gives rise to a wrongful death lawsuit.

Damages for wrongful death

The plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for reasonable hospital, nursing medical and funeral expenses, and expenses of administration necessitated by the injuries causing death. If a person dies without leaving a spouse or children or parents who are eligible to maintain a wrongful death action, such an action may be started and maintained by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.

The recovery in a wrongful death case must be distributed among the decedent’s heirs in accordance with Pennsylvania’s laws of intestate succession. The same rule applies if the decedent left no survivors eligible to commence a wrongful death action.

Legal advice from a personal injury attorney

Anyone who has lost a loved one under circumstances that may constitute negligence, i.e., a wrongful act or neglect, may wish to consult an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an opinion concerning the likelihood of recovering damages.